Siding Spring Observatory

Author
by Tanya
Publish date
14 January 2013
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Like other Australian astronomers last night, I was glued to the computer watching as a fire raged across the Warrumbungle National Park in NSW, home to Australia's world-class optical and infrared telescopes at Sliding Spring Observatory. I think the hardest thing was knowing that it's almost 10 years ago to the day, that fires destroyed the Mt Stromlo Observatory in Canberra. Could this really be happening again?

Fire around telescope A truly frightening image, as Australia's largest optical telescope, the Australian Astronomical Telescope (AAT), is engulfed in smoke.
Source: Rural Fire Services
 

Fires around telescope Fires blaze around cottages in front of the AAT. To the top right of the image are the flames that engulfed the lodge.
Source: FTS webcam
 

Fire at astronomer's lodge The glow as the astronomer's lodge is destroyed. Temperatures at the AAT were measured to be over 100 degrees.
Source: FTS webcam
 

Thankfully, lessons were learnt from that event and there is much hope that measures put into place may have saved the dozen or so telescopes on the mountain. We'll have to wait and see as the damage is assessed over the next few days.

The good news is that all 18 staff were evacuated safely. Many telescope domes are still standing, as new images come through this morning. The building which has been destroyed was the lodge which provided accommodation for astronomers during their observing runs. 

Fire around telescope Electronics were not meant to survive such temperatures.
Source: HATSouth webcam
 

Telescope dome after fire The picture I wanted to see today. The AAT dome still stands, but there will be a wait to access how the telescope fared inside.
Source: LCOGT webcam
 

Our thoughts are with the community of Coonabarabran and those who have been affected by the fires, and our thanks go out to fire services for their great efforts. 

If the telescopes had been destroyed it would have been devastating for Australian astronomical research, all but ending our ability to do continue doing optical astronomy here. Hundreds of researchers and students rely on those telescopes. And it would also have affected the Coonabarabran community, many of whom rely on the telescopes for their livelihoods too.

Images of the event, many taken from the webcams that are normally used by astronomers to check sky conditions during their nightly observations, tell the story.

burnt astronomer's lodge building The burnt out remains of the astronomers lodge. I have fond memories of Margaret's delicious chocolate pudding, which I would devour there, before heading up to the telescope for the night's observing run!
Source: Rural Fire Services

Telescope dome after fire The square "dome" on the left houses the ANU's 2.3 metre telescope which stayed a comfortable 20 degrees throughout the fire. The dome to the top right is the new SkyMapper telescope, led by Nobel Laureate Brian Schmidt and built to continue the work of the Great Melbourne Telescope after it was destroyed in the Mt Stromlo fires. Temperatures there peaked at 65 °C.
Source: Rural Fire Services
 

UPDATE: 

The Warrumbungle Shire Council has set up a Warrumbungle Shire Mayor’s Bushfire Appeal with donations being used solely to assist residents affected by the fire. The NSW Rural Fire Service are reporting that some 40 properties and over 110 out-buildings have been confirmed lost as well as a large number of livestock and farm machinery.

 

Links:

Siding Spring after the fires of January 2013 via Observations Blog, Sydney Observatory

Report from The Australian

Astropixie liveblogging the fire: Sunday night and Monday morning

Comments (2)

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David 15 January, 2013 11:52
Less than two weeks ago I spent 5 days visiting Siding Spring and the private Warrumbungle Observatory, as well as charming Coonabarabran and the rugged beauty of Warrumbungle National Park. And now the horror of bushfire. I think of staff who have lost their homes, the popular visitor centre and "Exploratory" now gone, those who have lost their farms along Tenby Rd, and the pain and loss for the whole community.
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Peter 15 January, 2013 08:16
I've been thinking of you Tanya all this time and can remember your connections with Mt Stromlo and the loss of work of your friends, colleagues and indeed your own. We all wait with you for the final outcome of these fires.
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