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Stuart Jackson 2004

Perth Observatory

On Sunday the 26th of August 2001, members of the Murdoch Astronomical Group joined members of the general public for the Sunday afternoon tour of the Observatory. The tour was given by one of the Observatories "observers" Greg Lowe, whom I had previously spent 10 days with on a 1997 astronomy expedition into the Gibson Desert.

The Perth Observatory is located in the suburb of Bickley, located in the Darling Ranges, around 10kms from the suburbs of Kalamunda and Lesmurdie. The drive there is very pleasant, passing through orchids and state forest.

The original Perth Observatory was constructed in 1896 near Kings Park on the hills overlooking Perth. The main building is still there, occupied by the National Heritage Trust. The domes were demolished. Seen below on the the left is the plaque from the original observatory. In the 1960's light pollution forced the observatory to move up to the hills. Seen below in the middle is the Administration building. Seen below on the right is the centenary plaque laid in 1996. If you look closely at the plaques they show the 12 constellations of the zodiacs and the positions of the planets at the time. The 1896 plaque doesn't have Pluto as of course Pluto wasn't discovered until 1930.

Inside the Administration building are several displays, including a museum-type room with interesting paintings and artifacts of interest. Of particular to our group was a new display of the 1753 celestial atlas by John Flamsteed named "Atlas Celestis". This atlas was kindly donated to the Observatory by a South Australian women who's family had it in their possession. Greg explained how a new page is turned every two weeks, then sprayed with a puff of nitrogen, then sealed again to preserve the atlas. Another display is the Meridian Tranist Circle (seen below right)

Sundial situated in the front gardens. Apparently a very similar sundial is located in the grounds of UWA, under a big tree.

Beyond the Administration building are various structures and domes housing the various telescopes. This dome below houses the 33cm Astrographic Telescope.

Greg open the dome and showed us how the Astrographic telescope operates. An attached Schmit camera was used alongside a photographic plate holder for taking wider field shots than the other CCD-equipped telescopes at the observatory.

Seen here are the newer buildings housing the various telescopes used for the Public Viewing Nights. Here members of the public and school groups book to come along to view various objects at night. The telescopes here are of the impressive commercial variety and include a Meade 16" LX200, Celestion 14" SCT and various other scopes above 8" in size. This is an excellent facility that the Observatory has. I believe that most of the money for the equipment has come from the running of the tours, and it is a real credit to the Observatory and the volunteers that shows how well they can setup something like this given the lack of government funding they recieve.

The main telescope at the Observatory is the PERTH/LOWELL 61CM Cassegrainian Reflector, mounted in a dome high above the ground (and trees). Can you see the moon in the second shot ?

The 61cm telescope has been setup with a CCD system. The whole system including dome operation have been automated by computer. This allows automated programs like the Supernova Search Program to kick in when the telescope is not being actively used. The Supernova Search Program has already resulted in the discovery of over a dozen Supernovae (for more details see the Perth Astronomy Research Group)

Quick peek inside the dome's control room (where it is warm on a cold night)

The view from up on the 61cm dome balcony showing the Public Viewing Facility and Astrograph dome.

Finally the view from up on the 61cm dome balcony showing a barrel shaped building that used to house the Meridian Transit Circle Telescope. This building is now empty. I should also point out that the gardens of the observatory are filled with interesting specimens of native flora and is very pleasant to walk through.

That ends the tour of the domes and it's back into the Admin building for a very interesting slideshow with comments from Greg. I can highly recommend the Sunday tour. It is well worth the trip up into the Hills and you could spend a bit of time at Mundaring Weir or some of the many walk trails in the area. The Night Viewing sessions are also worth attending, but be warned the waiting lists can be long, especially for the Friday and Saturday night ones.

The Perth Observatories website has more information, including tour information and contact numbers... also the Monday Night Sky Column is reproduced there for those that don't get the West Australian :)

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