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Million-dollar boost for Aussie telescope

Dome of the 2.3-metre telescope at SSO

The ANU's 2.3-metre telescope at Siding Spring Observatory in New South Wales. A million-dollar upgrade is underway.

A MILLION DOLLAR UPGRADE of one of Australia’s longest serving telescopes has just begun at Siding Spring Observatory near Coonabarabran in New South Wales, involving the four principal designers who worked on the project when it began at Mt Stromlo in Canberra in the early 1980s.

Dr Gary Hovey from the Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics at The Australian National University has been dragged out of retirement to play a major part in the upgrade of the 2.3-metre telescope along with 87-year-old mechanical engineer Herman Wehner.

“The four of us have periodically worked on the telescope for 30 years but we haven’t worked together as a design team since the early 1990s,” he said.

“For most of us, building the 2.3 metre telescope was the major and formative experience of our careers so it is gratifying to see that ‘the old workhorse’ is still able to make a contribution to modern astronomical research.”

“The last decade has seen a marked degradation of the fabric of the building, frequent electronic damage from lightning strikes and increasing problems with the procurement of spares,” Dr Hovey added.

“The proposed refurbishment will address these issues and will ensure that the 2.3 metre telescope functions well as a remotely controlled observing facility for all Australian astronomers.”

ANU 2.3-metre telescope

The ANU's 2.3-metre telescope

Major upgrade

The two-year overhaul will involve substantial reconditioning of the mechanical and electronic systems of the telescope and the co-rotating building, which serves as a dome, as well as fixing the building cladding and redesigning the ventilation system.

The other members of the original design team involved are John Hart and Jan van Harmelen. They will be working with the past and current maintenance engineers at Siding Spring Observatory, Malcolm Harris and Geoff White, managed by Liam Waldron.

“Although telescopes such as the 2.3-metre seem small in comparison to the behemoths now being built overseas, they can play a vital role in defining the frontiers of research and in the training of post-graduate students,” Dr Hovey said.

“If the promise of high performance instruments such as the new Wide Field Spectrograph is to be realised, then it is essential that the performance and reliability of the telescope be secured for another decade.”

Adapted from information issued by ANU.

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Aussie observatory goes it alone

Anglo-Australian Telescope

Anglo-Australian Observatory will become the Australian Astronomical Observatory on July 1. It's 3.9-metre telescope, built in the 1970s, is still one of the world's most productive.

  • Anglo-Australian to become solely Australian
  • Telescope is 35 years old, but one of the world’s best
  • Government putting in extra $30 million in next 5 years

The Australian Astronomical Observatory will continue its world-class astronomical research and training role when it becomes a solely Australian-operated facility on July 1.

At an historic ceremony marking the end of the joint Australian-British operation of the observatory, Parliamentary Secretary for Innovation and Industry, Richard Marles, said the telescope would continue to operate as one of the world’s most productive astronomical observatories.

“The 35-year collaboration with Britain is a great example of how international co-operation between governments, institutions and researchers can achieve ground-breaking results,” Mr Marles said.

“The telescope at Siding Spring, near Coonabarabran in NSW, was the first modern era optical telescope in the Southern Hemisphere and allowed astronomers to explore, in better detail, some of the most exciting regions of the sky, including the Milky Way Galaxy and the Magellanic Clouds.

Dome of the AAT

The dome of the 3.9m AAT at Siding Spring in NSW.

“Today it remains the world’s most productive four-metre telescope and has made major contributions to the way we think about the universe, including helping to discover that it is expanding at an accelerating rate.

“Work done here will help provide the skills, scientific and technical capabilities for the next generation of telescopes, like the major international collaboration on the Giant Magellan Telescope.”

What has been known as the Anglo-Australian Observatory will become the Australian Astronomical Observatory (AAO) as the Australian Government takes full responsibility for its operations from July 1.

“The Australian Government will spend an additional $27 million over five years to support ongoing operations of the AAO from its Super Science – Space and Astronomy initiative and $2.3 million from the Education Investment Fund for upgraded instrumentation,” Mr Marles said.

“This investment will ensure the AAO remains a global leader in astronomy and continue to provide years of service to the international astronomy community.”

Adapted from information issued by the office of the Parliamentary Secretary for Innovation and Industry. Photos by Shaun Amy and Barnaby Norris, AAO.