The news is carrying details of the
loss, devastation, and
related to one of
Australia's worst bush fires
I'd like to focus on one small aspect
of the disaster: the loss of the Mt
Stromlo observatory facilities.
The loss of Mt. Stromlo Observatory
is very great loss.
Established in 1924, the Commonwealth Observatory at
on the outskirts of Canberra.
Commonwealth Observatory was recognized for its important research into the origin and future of the universe.
made outstanding contributions to astronomy.
It would be difficult to list all of the
important contributions to Astronomy made
by the people working at Mt. Stromlo.
Now, a few come to mind:
- Stromlo research in the 1950s provided the first clue that the Magellanic Clouds had evolved differently from our own galaxy.
These results gave us important insights into galactic evolution.
- In the 1990's, astronomers from Stromlo and Sliding Springs (many km away from the fire area)
showed that about 90% of disc galaxies
(such as our own) are greatly influenced by
''dark matter'', in their galaxies' halos.
- They made important observations in the
first hours after
(the first naked eye supernova in several
centuries of years) was discovered.
- Then there is the sort of work such as the
Stromlo Abell Cluster Supernova Search
Compact Halo Objects (MACHO) project
that was the first to record many
microlensing events in our Galaxy as well as
- Then there was all of that tedious, but vital
work of spectral classification of southern stars.
- Many of the first parallax distances to
Southern stars were first made at Stromlo.
- The list goes on and on ...
I am sorry that I must leave out so many
other significant contributions!
One of the principal instruments at
Stromlo was the
74-inch (188-cm) reflecting telescope.
The 74-inch telescope was erected in 1953, and until the completion in 1974 of the 3.9m Anglo-Australian Telescope at Siding Spring, this was the largest telescope in the Southern Hemisphere.
In 1982, it
was used to discover
the fossil star CD-38245: a star so old that it is made almost purely of gases left over from the big bang.
It also was home scopes such as the
It was an excellent example of how an older
telescope could be outfitted with new controls
and instruments to perform innovative work.
was conducted on the 50 inch.
Two historical scopes come to mind, the Oddie,
and the Yale-Columbia telescope:
was a wonderful 9-inch Newtonian telescope.
Victorian MP, James Oddie, presented this telescope to the Commonwealth government for use in the proposed Commonwealth Observatory.
It was installed on the site at "Mt Strom" (as Stromlo was originally known) in September 1911. Over the years the Oddie telescope has made valuable contributions to Southern Hemisphere astronomy; it did some of the first measurements of the brightness, color and spectral classification of southern stars.
26-inch Grubb long-focus refractor was erected at this site for the determination of parallaxes of southern stars (it was the largest refractor in the southern hemisphere when first installed.
Moreover, there were other scopes as well ...
But alas, from what can be seen
from the air at this time, most, if not
all of those
telescopes have been lost.
At appears that heat from the burning of the
was hot enough to melt
many of the domes at the observatory.
the Stromlo lecture hall for their monthly
During public nights, the public had access
to a domed C14 scope, the Oddie, and a
number of scopes brought to the site by members ... all through the hard work and generous
efforts of the
I had the privilege of observing at Mt Stromlo
several times and spoke at one of the CAS meetings.
I still can recall flying down from the US
to a CAS
I was there only 36 hours after the
naked eye supernova was
I still recall seeing the single star,
at a distance of over 168,000 light-years,
in color and rightness over the course of
I was one of the most important
astronomical events I have had the honor to
I recall that
every scope up at Mt Stromlo
was all pointed at the Large Magellanic
was blazing away.
The previous observing board schedule was
canceled as people raced to collect as much
early critical data as they could in the
early hours of the event.
I had the privilege of being with the
members of the Canberra Astronomical
Society on two of my several total
solar eclipses: 1991 in Hawaii, US
and most recently the
eclipse in Ceduna, AU.
(Both trips count among my several
successful viewings of solar totality.
Although the 1991 Hawaii
was a close call that was saved because my
friend (the one who introduced me to the CAS)
broke his arm a very short time
before the Eclipse ... which allowed both of
us to have a full view of Totality in Hawaii ... but that is another story!)
I look forward to meeting with
many of these same people when we go
for the 2003 solar eclipse.
My best wishes and heart felt sorrow go
out to all of those people who worked so hard
to make Mt. Stromlo such a wonderful place
for the public to visit
and who helped the observatory make many
important contributions to Astronomy.
Much of what was lost cannot be replaced.
it is my hope that those who are left
will be able to rebuild something anew out this