Destroyed Australian Observatory to Be Rebuilt

Image credit: ANU

In early 2003 bushfires destroyed much of Australia’s Stromlo Observatory, including five telescopes and several support buildings. On Sunday, July 13, the Australian National University unveiled plans to rebuild the facilities on Mt Stromlo. In addition to building two new telescopes (including a two-metre robotic telescope), the University will also reconstruct several heritage buildings destroyed in the fire.

Bushfires in January destroyed more than $40 million worth of facilities and equipment at the Observatory, including five telescopes, workshops, an important heritage building and seven houses.

Mt Stromlo will resume its mantle as the home of Australian astronomy through the planned redevelopment, which includes the placement of two telescopes on Mount Stromlo and one at the ANU Siding Spring Observatory near Coonabarabran, reconstruction of heritage buildings and enhanced viewing facilities for the public, including a newvirtual reality theatre.

The redevelopment will ensure Mt Stromlo remains a world-class astronomy research and education facility, ANU Vice-Chancellor Professor Ian Chubb said. Funding for the redevelopment, including insurance claims, is yet to be finalised, so the plan allows for staged construction.

?Mt Stromlo is not just an icon of Australian science, it is the workplace of number of the world?s leading researchers,? Professor Chubb said.

?The January fires devastated the observatory, but it is time to look ahead to the new Stromlo.

?It is clear that a site with such heritage, renowned as a powerhouse of research and innovation around the world, must be re-equipped with world-class facilities. The University, the International scientific community and the Australian public would not and could not accept a second-class Stromlo.?

The planned redevelopment includes:
? The Advanced Instruments and Engineering Facility, which will replace the workshops destroyed in the blaze, offering expanded design and manufacture capabilities for precision optical instruments and a research and development program focusing on Extremely Large Telescopes

? A new robotically-controlled two-metre telescope, the Phoenix

? The world?s fastest sky-mapping telescope, the Skymapper, to be built at the ANU Siding Spring Observatory, but controlled from Mt Stromlo through a broadband link

? Restoration of the historic 1924 Admin building, to house a rebuilt library and offices

? Restoration of the historic 23cm Oddie Telescope

? Housing for Staff and Students

? A new virtual reality theatre, allowing visitors to fly through our universe in 3D

The Director of the Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics, Professor Penny Sackett, said Mt Stromlo had opened the eyes of tens of thousands of Australians to science and served as a vital resource to international astronomy for decades ? and would continue to play this role in future.

?The fires destroyed much of our infrastructure, but left our most important asset intact ? our people,? Professor Sackett said.

?The day after fires, we committed to restoring Stromlo and its network of facilities as a pillar of Australian science.

?Three weeks after the fires, our staff were back at work on the mountain, working in two office buildings which were largely undamaged.

?We can not and we should not reconstruct a carbon copy of the old Stromlo. This new design is overwhelmingly oriented around meeting the needs of staff, students and visitors ? while also ensuring Stromlo retains its status as an internationally important observatory.

?For decades, Stromlo and Siding Spring have been operated as integrated observatories, combining the virtues of a control base close to ANU, close to the nation?s capital and accessible to the community with a primary observation base offering optimal astronomical and climatic conditions.

?The new design retains telescopes and the research hub at Stromlo, but provides even stronger integration with the University?s Siding Spring resources, ultimately providing a more powerful research facility for Australia.?

Original Source: ANU News Release