"Astronomy," wrote Plato, "compels the soul to look upwards and leads us from this world to another."

The majesty of the night sky is a fact felt by many. But for more than two years, one of South Australia's main public stargazing devices has been out of action.

The dome that covers the observatory at Stockport about 70 kilometres north of Adelaide was damaged in a severe storm in 2010 and has been unable to reopen.

The telescope inside remains in mint condition but since the observatory closed, the furthest it has been able to peer into space is the roof of the building that contains it.

That's about to change though, after the Astronomical Society of South Australia was given $50,000 by the State Government to pay for half of the cost of a new dome.

The observatory is used as a teaching tool, hosting groups of curious students and members the public but it also has an impressive research record.

The astronomical society's Robert Jenkins says while its discoveries will never be at the edge of cosmology, it can shed light on some interesting phenomena closer to home.

"Astronomy is one of those sciences where people in the public can actually get heavily involved. The equipment available these days, the cameras, the incredible telescopes, a few years ago were only for the top end scientists," he said.

"The difference between this and a lot of amateur telescopes is its incredible accuracy. This will not only point at a star accurately first time but it will stay locked on that star for many hours so we can observe the moons of Pluto and photograph them for four or five hours continuously.

"We can see that Pluto has an atmosphere and we actually have done that work with the Paris observatory."

The reflective telescope inside, known as the Jubilee, is 50 centimetres in diameter and uses mirrors to improve picture quality.

Science Minister Grace Portolesi says the instrument plays a very important local role both in the education and practice of science.

"We want our students to experience astronomy. This is the largest public telescope and so it's about access at a very practical level to science," she said.

The observatory itself is named in honour of Sir Charles Todd, the son of a tea merchant and grocer from Greenwich, England. Todd worked at the famous local observatory - the home of mean time - and at Cambridge University before emigrating to Adelaide.

Mr Jenkins says Sir Charles is an undeservedly neglected figure whose achievements were quite literally astronomical, including pioneering work as an engineer, surveyor and meteorologist.

"He was the first one to realise weather patterns in Australia travelled from west to east. It was assumed they went the other way," he said.

"He was an astronomer. That was I think his major hobby and that's why he was employed in South Australia as the first Government astronomer.

"He was also an electrical engineer, he also came here to set up the semaphore systems to the boats and he actually arranged an electrical system where he'd push a button at West Terrace observatory and it'd drop the signal to the boats, the one o'clock signal so they could set their longitude and latitude."

Mr Jenkins expects the replacement of the dome to be completed by early next year with a substantially different design to accommodate an even larger telescope planned for the future.

"This dome is a round dome, classical dome that you see over the world but more modern domes are moving away from this shape because it was designed to keep snow out," he said.

"Our new dome will be eight sided with an almost flat roof."

Astronomers hope once the building reopens, the sky will once again be the limit to what they might find.