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Smoke damage to four buildings housing telescopes at observatory

Four buildings containing telescopes at Australia’s largest astronomical observatory have suffered smoke damage in a bushfire, the Australian National University said today. Access to the Siding Spring…

A handout aerial image released by the New South Wales Rural Fire Service on 14 January 2013 shows the partly destroyed Siding Spring Observatory in the Warrumbungle National Park near Coonabarabran in New South Wales. EPA/NSW Rural Fire Service

Four buildings containing telescopes at Australia’s largest astronomical observatory have suffered smoke damage in a bushfire, the Australian National University said today.

Access to the Siding Spring Observatory (SSO) in the Warrumbungle Mountains remains very limited but the ANU, which runs the Obervatory, said in a statement that an initial visual assessment had revealed that:

  • Three buildings have been destroyed (The Lodge, a cottage and a storage building)

  • Three buildings have been badly damaged (The Visitors Centre and two sheds)

  • Four telescopes appear to have some smoke damage to their buildings

The centre will be closed for two weeks while the damage is assessed.

ARC Super Science Fellow at the Australian Astronomical Observatory Dr Amanda Bauer, who uses the 3.9m Anglo-Australian Telescope at the SSO – the largest optical telescope in Australia – said she understood that investigators were yet to check if the telescopes in the smoke-damaged buildings still worked.

“As far as I know, they haven’t actually been inside the buildings yet. There are still fires in the area and they are working on getting water and sewerage up and running first,” she said.

“We have made some attempts to remotely communicate with the computer systems and some of those have been successful.”

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3 Comments sorted by

  1. George Michaelson

    Person

    I'm guessing the risk is having to re-surface the mirrors. The ABC interview with Prof. Schmidt said that after Mt Stromlo, The AAO put up fire-resistant paint and flashing around things and did some tree clearance around the buildings. I'd say the preventive measures paid off. Well done!

    (and super-glad there is no loss of life too)

    report
  2. Michael J. I. Brown

    ARC Future Fellow and Senior Lecturer at Monash University

    The following was posted on the Australian Astronomical Observatory's facebook page a couple of hours ago.

    SSO fire update

    The generators for the telescopes were filled again yesterday, and we expect they will be again today.

    Given the limited access, and the need to have the site properly inspected for safety before allowing staff back to the telescopes, it seems unlikely that we will be able to assess the state of the telescopes and instruments in any more detail today (Wednesday). We will be keeping everyone informed as things develop.

    On Monday, staff were able to inspect the interior of the AAT and the Schmidt. While there is a lot of ash and debris inside both buildings, the mirrors and instruments appear at present to be OK.

    report