SCOTLAND'S oldest public observatory has gone digital.

After helping star- gazers study the night sky for more than a century, the Coats Observatory, in Paisley, has been updated.

A new digital planetarium, which will allow even more people to gaze into space, has been installed.

The planetarium projects an accurate virtual vision of the night sky on to the dome of an intimate 15-seat theatre, which allows viewers to zoom through the cosmos and get up close to the stars.

The £11,500 projector was bought with funds from the Thomas Coats bequest, a fund left by Paisley's Victorian thread magnate and benefactor.

John Pressly, observatory officer and curator of science at Paisley Museum, said: "Our new planetarium means we can show people galaxies, planets and nebula up close and can really bring home to people what's out there in space.

"It's a very intimate setting. We can have groups of up to 15, which really allows us to tailor what we show. If people have a specific interest we can zoom in on and tailor the experience to them, with high quality images from sources like the Hubble Space Telescope."

As well as its ability to display the night sky the digital planetarium can also show films.

These full-dome movies immerse the viewer completely, as the image is projected onto the entire roof above their heads.

The observatory hopes to expand its library of available films and develop a programme of shows which will bring the most up to date astronomical discoveries to visitors in an interesting and innovative way.

The observatory is open for viewing nights every Tuesday and Thursday, when stargazers can try a range of telescopes, including its historically important 10inch Grubb of 1898.

Mr Pressly added: "The majority of people who come and try it for the first time, most of them say 'Wow!'.

"People are usually pretty amazed. Seeing something like the Moon in incredible detail reveals so much more than you can see with the naked eye.

"It's something you have to experience."

The leader of Renfrewshire Council recently tried out the new planetarium and was impressed with the experience.

Mark Macmillan said: "Coats Observatory is one of Renfrewshire's most unique buildings.

"The Grubb telescope gives visitors to the night sky viewings an incredible opportunity to see the wonders of the universe, but unfortunately our weather doesn't always work in our favour.

"The new digital planetarium will allow visitors to learn about our skies at any time of the year, regardless of the weather.

"This investment demonstrates Renfrewshire Council's commitment to building on the unique assets of this authority and it is hoped that the new planetarium will encourage even more visitors locally, nationally and internationally."

Members of the public are invited to experience this stunning new technology, for free, at weekly planetarium shows every Tuesday from 2pm to 3pm.

Booking is essential and can be made in person at Paisley Museum or by calling 0141 840 6179.

As well as the weekly daytime shows, the planetarium will be used during the observatory's night sky viewing sessions when the weather prevents use of the telescopes.

Coats Observatory viewing nights are every Tuesday and Thursday from 6.30pm to 9pm from the end of October to the end of March.

Admission is free and there is no need to book.