• LOCATION 18 | Highlights from the Virtual Solar System Drive with Fred Watson

    Siding Spring Observatory

    So Fred, our Terranauts are heading to Siding Spring Observatory, and they should probably know why the observatory is there, and a little of the site history.

    [FRED] Good idea!

    Before the 1950s, Mount Stromlo in Canberra was the home to Australia's National Optical Telescope, but light pollution in the growing town stopped astronomers from being able to see faint astronomical objects in the sky.

    The then Director, Bart Bok commenced the search for a new site and narrowed down to two places – Siding Spring and Mount Bingar near Griffith.

    In 1962 Siding Spring was selected by the Australian National University because of the dark and cloud-free skies. Within a few years, there were three telescopes, sealed roads, staff accommodation, electricity and water on the mountain named after the creek on the northern side of the mountain outcrop.

    At about the same time, the Australian and British governments were negotiating the construction of the world's largest optical telescope. Siding Spring Observatory had all the infrastructure in place making it the obvious place to build the Anglo-Australian Telescope.

    The telescope was constructed in just over 3 years, has a 3.9-metre mirror, is housed in a building the equivalent of 17 stories high and was officially opened by Prince Charles on 16 October 1974.

    [marnie] How many telescopes are there at Siding Spring Observatory?

    [Fred] The Observatory is home to many telescopes from institutions all around the world including, Korea, America, the UK, Poland, Hungary, Germany and Russia. They include; the second-largest telescope on the site the UK Schmidt Telescope, iTelescope.Net with over 25 telescopes housed in a large roll-off roof and Las Cumbres Observatory Global Telescope Network inside the clam style dome. These are all viewable from the Visitors Car Park. At the western arm of the mountain, there are several more telescopes including the Uppsala Schmidt, Skymapper and the 2.3meter Telescope.

    Marnie] Is the AAT, still the biggest telescope in the world?

    No, there are much bigger telescopes in Chile now, but it is the biggest in Australia, and we're lucky to still have it.

    On 13 January 2013, the facility was threatened by a huge bushfire and firestorm. As the firestorm ripped across the mountain top, eighteen staff were evacuated to Coonabarabran, three buildings were destroyed: 'The Lodge' where visiting researchers stayed, the Director's Cottage and the Fire Station.

    Though smoke, ash and other air-borne debris entered some domes, all telescopes survived the inferno due to the heroic efforts of the bushfire brigades.

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Highlights from the Virtual Solar System Drive with Fred Watson