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#800354 - 01/13/13 09:04 AM Bushfires threaten major international observatory
Mona - Astronomy Offline
BellaOnline Editor
Koala

Registered: 05/01/10
Posts: 2066
Loc: United Kingdom
Siding Springs Observatory in New South Wales, Australia is under threat from out-of-control wildfires. It has already been evacuated, as have homes in the area. The site has 11 telescopes operated by various countries including the 3.9-metre Anglo-Australian telescope, one of the world's major optical telescopes.


Edited by Mona - Astronomy (01/13/13 09:05 AM)
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#800355 - 01/13/13 09:14 AM Re: Bushfires threaten major international observatory [Re: Mona - Astronomy]
Mona - Astronomy Offline
BellaOnline Editor
Koala

Registered: 05/01/10
Posts: 2066
Loc: United Kingdom
I've just seen a posting from an Australian friend. An official notice from the fire service says part of the observatory has been damaged. There will be a damage assessment in the morning. But it also looks as though the direction of the fire is now away from the observatory so the astronomers must have their fingers crossed in hopes the damage was limited.
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#800430 - 01/13/13 06:07 PM Re: Bushfires threaten major international observatory [Re: Mona - Astronomy]
Mona - Astronomy Offline
BellaOnline Editor
Koala

Registered: 05/01/10
Posts: 2066
Loc: United Kingdom
It was almost exactly ten years ago that Mt Stromlo Obseratory near Canberra, the Australian capital, was gutted by a raging fire. It advanced so quickly, staff had 20 minutes to evacuate. There were no casualties among observatory staff, but there were deaths in the massive blaze. Many homes were lost and there was some $20 million of damage to the historic observatory.

Mount Stromlo Observatory after bushfire 2003-01-18
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#800581 - 01/14/13 03:22 PM Re: Bushfires threaten major international observatory [Re: Mona - Astronomy]
Mona - Astronomy Offline
BellaOnline Editor
Koala

Registered: 05/01/10
Posts: 2066
Loc: United Kingdom
Bad news and good news, report my colleagues in Australia.

The observatory's on-site accommodation has been badly damaged, so the observatory is off limits without permission from the Rural Fire Service. And, unfortunately, a few dozen homes in the area have also been destroyed.

The good news is that there are no reported casualties in the area and it looks as though the telescopes have not sustained major damage. However they haven't yet been thoroughly checked.

The experience of losing Mount Stromlo Observatory a decade ago did prompt measures to protect against fire. This includes mesh screens on windows to stop cinders from igniting the buildings from the inside, special paint and very importantly, controlled burns to remove undergrowth.
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#800882 - 01/16/13 06:07 AM Re: Bushfires threaten major international observatory [Re: Mona - Astronomy]
Mona - Astronomy Offline
BellaOnline Editor
Koala

Registered: 05/01/10
Posts: 2066
Loc: United Kingdom
In the same area as Siding Springs is the Mopra telescope, a radio telescope. A first check showed that the equipment room seems to have withstood the blaze fairly well. But conditions will have to improve before a thorough check can be made. The control room was badly damaged and staff accommodation is in a dangerous state. No one was on site at the time, as the telescope is operated remotely.

The fires are still burning - this picture was taken by a commercial airline pilot yesterday: Coonabarrabran fire still burning


Edited by Mona - Astronomy (01/16/13 06:10 AM)
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#801590 - 01/19/13 07:14 AM Re: Bushfires threaten major international observatory [Re: Mona - Astronomy]
Mona - Astronomy Offline
BellaOnline Editor
Koala

Registered: 05/01/10
Posts: 2066
Loc: United Kingdom
Over fifty homes have been destroyed in the area where the observatory is, but thanks to the Rural Fire Service, many have been saved. The observatory has hopes of getting power restored soon and a full safety assessment is to be carried out on Monday.

The fire is still burning and temperatures are still high, 46oC - that's 115oF - reported in Sydney and other places.
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#802059 - 01/22/13 04:02 PM The Saga of an Astronomer's Hat [Re: Mona - Astronomy]
Mona - Astronomy Offline
BellaOnline Editor
Koala

Registered: 05/01/10
Posts: 2066
Loc: United Kingdom
Rob McNaught has discovered fifty comets including the Great Comet of 2007, which amazed people in the southern hemisphere and left the rest of us very envious.



The Great Comet of 2007

But he lives in Siding Springs and here is his story. He has written about his loss with fortitude and humor - it's worth reading. The Saga of an Astronomer's Hat
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#802297 - 01/23/13 06:04 PM Re: Bushfires threaten major international observatory [Re: Mona - Astronomy]
Mona - Astronomy Offline
BellaOnline Editor
Koala

Registered: 05/01/10
Posts: 2066
Loc: United Kingdom
Update from Astropixie (astronomer Amanda Bauer) says that access to Siding Spring Observatory won't be allowed until at least February 18. There is a thorough safety assessment in progress with particular concern for falling trees, landslips, asbestos around the buildings and possibly other hazardous materials.

When the site is open, "insurance loss assessors will inspect the facilities and site and the staff will begin the cleaning, repairs, and detailed assessment of telescope and instrument status."
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#806431 - 02/17/13 05:07 AM Hurrah! Back at last! [Re: Mona - Astronomy]
Mona - Astronomy Offline
BellaOnline Editor
Koala

Registered: 05/01/10
Posts: 2066
Loc: United Kingdom
Great news!

On Feb 14 - a bit earlier than expected - the Anglo-American Telescope was back in business after the fire. There are technical staff on site and the astronomers are working remotely from Sydney.

Here is the first AAT photo taken after the fire.
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