Siding Spring Observatory

After an early start in Parkes we headed North towards Coonabarabran.

Day two of #dishtour. About to head to Coonabarabran for a tour of the Anglo-Australian telescope at Siding Spring. 7:26 AM Nov 20th, 2009

We spent nearly two hours in the cafeteria/gift shop at Siding Spring Observatory, consuming the time with chatter amongst the tour members and a wander through the various exhibits.

Lunch at Siding Spring Observatory

Lunch at Siding Spring Observatory

While eating lunch I tweeted one of my stellar puns.

Lunch at the Siding Springs Observatory cafe. The prices are astronomical, but the food is out of this world. #dishtour 12:24 PM Nov 20th, 2009

Siding Spring Panorama

Siding Spring Panorama - Anglo-Australian Telescope on Right

Siding Spring Observatory panorama: http://twitpic.com/q7gas #dishtour 6:56 PM Nov 20th, 2009


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The Siding Spring Observatory is situated 1,165 metres (3,820 ft) above sea level in the Warrumbungle National Park on Mount Woorat also known as Siding Spring Mountain. Siding Spring Observatory is owned by the Australian National University (ANU) and is part of the Mount Stromlo and Siding Spring Observatories research school. There are currently 12 telescopes on site.

The Anglo Australian Telescope (AAT)

The first telescope we looked at was the Anglo-Australian Telescope, a 3.9 m equatorially mounted telescope. The AAT was comissioned in 1974 and at the time was one of the largest telescopes in the Southern hemisphere.

Inside the Anglo Australian Telescope (AAT)

Inside the Anglo Australian Telescope (AAT)

Each day the dome housing the AAT is cooled to the temperature forecast for that evening at the Siding Spring site. This reduces exchange of air when the dome is opened at night resulting in a clearer view of the night sky.

We were lucky enough to be lead through the Anglo Australian Telescope by Astronomer-in-Charge, Dr Fred Watson.

Just had an amazing tour right through the Anglo-Australian Telescope: #dishtour http://twitpic.com/q6s5y 3:01 PM Nov 20th, 2009

Faulkes Telescope South

Our next stop was the Faulkes Telescope South (FTS). This fully robotic 2m reflecting telescope is a clone of the Liverpool Telescope. It is used for research as well as by school children around the world via the internet.

Faulkes Telescope South

Faulkes Telescope South

Inside the Faulkes Telescope South at Siding Spring, NSW: #dishtour http://twitpic.com/q74f6 4:36 PM Nov 20th, 2009

The Faulkes telescopes can also be found on Twitter at @faulkestel.

UK Schmidt Telescope

The UK Schmidt Telescope survey telescope with an aperture of 1.2 metres and a very wide-angle field of view. The telescope was commissioned in 1973 and was designed to photograph 6.6 x 6.6 degree areas of the night sky on plates 356 x 356 mm.

Schematic of the UK Schmidt Telescope

Schematic of the UK Schmidt Telescope

More recently the photographic plates have been replaced with an array of fibre-optic cables strategically located so each one can gather the spectra of an individual star within the telescope’s field of view.

Computer controlling the placement of the optical fibres

Computer controlling the placement of the optical fibres

The individual fibre-optic cables are placed with the help of a robot as seen in the image below.

Robotic placement of optical fibres

Robotic placement of optical fibres

The UKST is currently conducting the Radial Velocity Experiment (RAVE). This is a survey that aims to measure the radial velocities and stellar atmosphere parameters (temperature, metallicity, surface gravity) of up to one million stars near the Sun.

Skymapper

SkyMapper is a surveying telescope which is able to quickly and deeply scan the nighttime skies. It was comissioned so recently (became operational in May 2009) that it still had the “new-telescope-smell”.

The SkyMapper is a fully automated telescope, 1.3m in diameter with an 8-sq degree field of view. It will provide a deep digital map of the southern sky which will allow astronomers to study everything from nearby objects such as asteroids in our solar system to the most distant objects in the universe called quasars.

The Skymapper Telescope

The Skymapper Telescope

The data taken by the SkyMapper telescope will be shared with astronomers around the world via the Virtual Observatory initiative.

Other Telescopes at Siding Spring

We continued on to visit a number of other telescopes at the Siding Spring Observatory:

HAT-South

The HAT-South is a project to search for transiting extrasolar planets in the Southern Hemisphere. It uses a network of wide-field telescopes to monitor hundreds of thousands of bright stars, searching for the characteristic dip in light that occurs when a planet passes in front of its host star.

2.3 Metre Advanced Technology Telescope

The 2.3 Metre Advanced Technology Telescope was housed in a building that could rotate on it’s axis.

Rotating Building Housing the 2.3m Telescope

Rotating Building Housing the 2.3m Telescope

Spinning building in the foreground with the Anglo-Australian Telescope in the background: #dishtour http://twitpic.com/q74p5 4:39 PM Nov 20th, 2009

Stargazing near Coonabarabran

After a long hot day trekking around the Siding Spring Observatory site we headed back to our hotel in Coonabarabran for drinks and dinner.

Arrival in Coonabarabran

Arrival in Coonabarabran

Spirits were high after our epic day of telescope inspections and we were all keen to get our hands on some smaller scopes and see some of the objects we had been discussing for ourselves.

Back at Coonabarabran, heading out later tonight for some viewing at a private observatory #dishtour 6:52 PM Nov 20th, 2009

After dinner we boarded the bus again and drove to the Warrumbungle Observatory where we watched an interesting presentation about the objects in the night sky. There were about 6 different telescopes set up on a concrete pad, each one programmed to point at and track a different object in the sky.

Amongst the objects we saw were Jupiter and it’s moons, a globular cluster, the Pleiades and Neptune.

There were also two larger telescopes set up in domes. People were encouraged to bring along digital SLR cameras as they could be attached to these larger scopes. Below is one of the images taken by someone on our tour. It shows the M42 Nebula, a large area of hydrogen gas from which stars are born. It lies at a distance of 1500 light years away and is 15 light years in diameter.

Photo of M42 - The Great Nebula in Orion

Photo of M42 - The Great Nebula in Orion

Have just returned from an awesome night of stargazing. Saw Jupiter + moons, nebulae, Neptune etc etc. 6 telescopes operating. #dishtour 10:54 PM Nov 20th, 2009

We drove past the Warrumbungle Observatory on our way out of Coonabarabran the next day and I managed to snap this image out the bus window. The Telescopes on the concrete pad had been moved inside but the two domes housing the larger scopes are still visible.

Warrumbungle Observatory by day

Warrumbungle Observatory by day

Continue to Day 3 of the Beyond The Dish Tour