[astroCS] Pozar znicil Mt. Stromlo

Jiri Grygar grygar at fzu.cz
Mon Jan 20 16:05:40 UTC 2003

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Date: Mon, 20 Jan 2003 14:04:48 +0200
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CCNet 6/2003 - 20 January 2003


From, The Sydney Morning Herald, 20 January 2003

By Richard Macey and Michael Bradley

A third of Australia's world-leading astronomy program was wiped out at the
weekend when the Canberra bushfires gutted the Mount Stromlo Observatory.

The flames destroyed five telescopes, the workshop, eight staff homes and
the main dome, causing more than $20million in damage.

The historic 1.3 metre-diameter Great Melbourne Telescope, built in 1868 and
upgraded a decade ago to become one of the most sophisticated in Australia,
was lost, as was a larger, 1.9-metre instrument.

"Our telescopes have been obliterated ... and most importantly, our
workshops have been gutted," said a shattered Professor John Norris, Mount
Stromlo's associate director, who spent several hours yesterday inspecting
the damage.

"It is just tragic."

The inferno devastated Australia's hopes of becoming a world leader in the
building of advanced technology used in the world's biggest telescopes.

Destroyed was a $5million imaging spectrograph in Mount Stromlo's workshop
that was almost ready to be installed in Hawaii's gigantic Gemini
Observatory, one of just two 8.1-metre-diameter telescopes in the world.

"It was ready to be delivered," said another shocked astronomer, Brian

Just last month, Mount Stromlo won an international competition to build a
second instrument, a $6.3million camera to be fitted to the second Gemini
telescope, in Chile.

"It was a big win ... and now we have lost the workshop it was to be built
in," Professor Schmidt said.

The camera, to be delivered in 2005, would be able to cancel out distortions
caused by the atmosphere, allowing the Chilean telescope to take pictures
"as good as the Hubble Space Telescope".

The refurbished Great Melbourne Telescope made history in the 1990s,
discovering proof that some of the universe's missing matter is tied up in
dark MACHOs - massive astronomical compact halo objects, such as "brown
dwarfs" - stars lurking on the edge of our Milky Way galaxy that failed to
ignite and shine.

Since 2000, Mount Stromlo has also been involved in a search for swarms of
small "Pluto-like" planets believed to dwell on the edge of the solar

"That search, I guess, is now complete," said a dismayed Professor Schmidt.

The astronomer recently began a $1.1million project to make a complete
digital map of the entire southern sky.

"We started only 19 days ago," he said.

Professor Schmidt realised the observatory was doomed on Saturday, when he
went to the home of a friend in Duffy, just two kilometres from Mount
Stromlo. At first he thought he would be able to help his friend by putting
out spot fires.

"But there were no spot fires. There was just a wall of flame."

Asked if Mount Stromlo, which employs 20 astronomers, 60 support staff and
25 students, could be rebuilt, he replied: "We can only hope and pray."

Copyright 2003, The Sydney Morning Herald

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