The Plate Library at the Royal Observatory, Edinburgh

Surveys and Sky Atlases

The Plate Library at ROE has been designed for two purposes; as an archive for the 19000 original glass plates and films taken with the UKST and as a suitable place in which astronomers can use this unique collection. On receipt of an approved application most plates stored in the Library are available for loan, consultation or machine measurement to users around the world. An air-conditioned environment provides both suitable archival conditions and a comfortable working area. The Library also contains copies of all the major sky atlases made from plates taken with the UKST and other Schmidt telescopes (see below).

The visiting astronomer can inspect the photographs using high powered microscopes and light tables, use an XY measuring machine or take images of small areas using a CCD camera. The fast automatic measuring machine, SuperCOSMOS, is close by.

Sky Atlases held in the ROE Plate Library:

Atlas        Sky Coverage          Colour     Number   Medium
                                             of fields

POSS-I       Dec >= -30            B & R       936     Glass & paper
POSS-I       Dec = -42, -36        R                   Paper Whiteoak extension
POSS-I(I)    Dec > 0 & |b| < 10    I & R               Paper
ESO B        Dec -90 to -20        B           606     Film & Glass
SERC J *     Dec -90 to -20        Bj          606     Film & Glass
ESO R        Dec -90 to -20        R           606     Film & Glass
SERC I/SR *  Dec <= 0 & |b| < 10   R & I       163     Film
SERC EJ/ER * Dec -15 to 0          Bj & R      288     Film & Glass 
POSS-II      Dec >= 0              Bj          894     Film & Glass 
POSS-II      Dec >= 0              R           894     Film & Glass
POSS-II      Dec >= 0              I           894     Film 
* - original exposures taken with the UKST for all the surveys and atlases are stored in the Plate Library.

Surveys and Sky Atlases

Information on:

ESO/SERC Southern Sky Survey and Atlas:

The first major task of the UKST was to survey the southern sky south of dec -20 on IIIa-J emulsion. Plates taken through the GG395 filter on 606 centres spaced at intervals of 5 degrees form the blue (3950-5400A) half of the ESO/SERC Southern Sky Survey. The plates are sky-limited with a limiting magnitude of Bj=22.5 and were taken between 1974 and 1987, with over 90% obtained by 1980.

The matching red plates (6300-6900A) were taken with the ESO 1m Schmidt Telescope in Chile. Film and glass sets of the ESO/SERC Southern Sky Atlas have been made at the ESO Sky Atlas Laboratories at Garching, Munich; a few sets of the film atlas are still available for purchase.

Second Epoch (red) Survey:

A second epoch survey of the 606 fields of the ESO/SERC Southern Sky Atlas commenced in 1985 and was completed in 1999. This survey was carried out on IIIa-F emulsion through an OG590 filter giving a wavelength coverage of 5900-6900A. The plates are sky limited with a limiting magnitude of R=21.5; the mean epoch difference is 15 years from the Bj originals of the ESO/SERC Atlas.

SERC Equatorial Sky Survey and Atlas

This survey is the northerly extension of the ESO/SERC Southern Sky Survey. It consists of sky limited exposures on 288 fields in blue (EJ) and red (ER) with plate centres 20 min (5 degrees) apart in RA on declination zones -15, -10, -5 and 0. It covers the area of sky between the ESO/SERC Atlas and the second Palomar Observatory Survey in the north. The EJ exposures were made between 1979 and 1994 and the ER between 1984 and 1998.

The atlases were made at the ROE Photolabs.

Seven glass sets of the EJ atlas were made, these copies are in the USA, Canada, France, Germany and the UK. Five glass sets of the ER atlas were made. Copies are in the UK, France, Germany and USA.

SERC I/SR Survey and Atlas of the Milky Way and Magellanic Clouds:

The UKST has taken pairs of plates on the 151 fields with dec < 0 and |b| < 10 plus 12 fields around the Magellanic clouds. The exposures have been deep I-plates (IV-N emulsion + RG715 filter) and matching short exposure red plates (IIIa-F emulsion + RG630 filter); the limiting magnitude is about I=19. The plates were taken between 1978 and 1985.

The survey was reproduced on film and distributed to over 70 institutions.

I-Survey of the Southern Sky:

The remaining 731 fields south of dec=0 but not included in the SERC I/SR survey were photographed in the I-band between 1978 and 2002. There are no plans to reproduce this survey.

H-alpha Survey:

H-alpha filter and survey: In 1997 a new (single element) H-alpha filter was purchased. Mounted on a full size (356mm) substrate this new filter, HA659, has a clear aperture of approximately 300mm diameter (5 degrees). This filter combined with the very fine grain 4415 emulsion was used to carry out a survey of the Milky Way and Magellanic Clouds in H-alpha. Matching short-exposure red exposures (4415 + OG590) were also taken. The survey consists of 233 fields on 4 degree centres in the Milky Way plus 40 fields in the Magellanic Clouds. More details (written in Oct 2000) on the filter and survey can be found here .

UKST Atlases of the Magellanic Clouds:

The area covered consists of 4 fields of the SMC (fields 28, 29, 50 ,51) and 8 of the LMC (fields 32, 33, 55-57, 84-86). The following film sets are available: U, V, R, "SR", I. The I and SR sets are copies from the SERC I/SR Atlas. The R set is from sky-limited IIIa-F plates.


Requests for further information should be addressed to:

Royal Observatory 
Blackford Hill
Edinburgh EH9 3HJ     e-mail:
Scotland              tel: 0131 668 8330  

Palomar atlases held in the Plate Library:

POSS-I - glass and paper (blue and red)
POSS-II - glass (B and R), film (B, R, I)

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Edited Nov 2010