The Great Melbourne Telescope is one of the great hidden stories of 19th century Australia.
Designed by leading British astronomers and erected at Melbourne Observatory in 1869, the telescope was the second largest telescope in the world. It was designed to explore the nature of the nebulae in the southern skies. Were the nebulae really clouds of gas, the birthplace of stars, or were they distant clusters of stars? Only a large telescope could help resolve this question.
For Melbournians in the 1870s and 1880s, the telescope was tangible evidence of Melbourne’s claim to being the leading metropolis of the southern hemisphere. The telescope became a symbol of Marvellous Melbourne.
Incredibly, the telescope had a second and a third life; transferred to Mount Stromlo Observatory near Canberra in 1945, it was rebuilt for new astronomical projects. In the 1990s it detected compelling evidence of dark matter. Now returned to Melbourne, it is being restored for a new life. Few telescopes in the world have had such a rich history.
‘If ever there was a book that all Australians interested in their cultural heritage should read, this is it. Richard Gillespie has given us extraordinary insights into the lives and times of both the telescope and the people who surrounded it, while setting its scientific importance firmly in context.’
Australian Astronomical Observatory
Richard Gillespie is Head of the History and Technology Department at Museum Victoria. He is a historian of science who has focused on the interactions between scientific practice, institutional contexts, politics and society. Richard is a member of a team of astronomers, engineers and museum staff working on the restoration of the Great Melbourne Telescope and its return to its original site at Melbourne Observatory.
Also available as an ebook.