Fires destroy world-renowned observatory
Jan 20, 2003
The bush fires that have wreaked havoc in Canberra, Australia, have destroyed the Mount Stromlo Observatory. The fires burnt down four telescopes, an equipment workshop and several staff buildings at the observatory on Sunday. Initial estimates put the damage at over A$20 million (US$12 million).
Mt Stromlo, which was established in 1924, is one of Australia’s leading astronomical research facilities. It is operated by the Australian National University and, together with the Sliding Springs Observatory at Coonabarabran, has contributed to several recent discoveries -- such as the discovery of the oldest known star.
The fires burnt down Mount Stromlo’s historic 1.3 m Great Melbourne Telescope, which was built in 1868, along with a 1.9 m telescope and a A$5 m spectrograph built for the Gemini project. The fires also destroyed a workshop where a A$6.3 m camera for the Gemini South telescope was to be built. These losses are expected to delay the Gemini project by at least three years. The fires also mean that a five-year assignment to digitally map the southern skies that was recently started at Stromlo will have to be postponed.
Fortunately, however, two office buildings and the visitor centre were spared. This is good news for astronomers as it was here that most of the recently generated computer data were stored.
ANU vice-chancellor Ian Chubb hopes that Mt Stromlo’s work can continue at other facilities until the observatory is rebuilt. “Plans are already being put in place to rebuild at Mount Stromlo and restore the research school to its full capacity,” he said.
About the author
Belle Dumé is Science Writer at PhysicsWeb