Archive for the ‘Astronomy blog’ Category

Daily cosmobite: Earth and asteroid 4766 Malin

Published by Andrew Jacob on October 3, 2014 No Comments

Asteroid 4766 Malin, named after renowned Australian astrophotographer David Malin, has its closest approach to Earth today. However it is still 1.5 times further from us than is the Sun. The real David appears below at the opening of the 2014 Winning Sky Photos exhibition. The exhibition is on display at Sydney Observatory until 2 November before travelling around Australia. Photo © MAAS.

David Malin at WSP 2014

Dr David Malin at Sydney Observatory

In blog 1 and blog 2 of this series I provided information about why Sydney Observatory is building a new dome, where the dome came from and how the building program is progressing. I have already introduced you to some of the people involved in the project and our major supporters of the project, NSW Department of Aging, Disability and Home Care and the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences.

Astrograph Dome

Architectural drawing by NSW Government Architects.

Over the past week progress has been made in completing the concrete pour so the external ramp and patio are now in place and the blockwork walls are just starting to rise. The other big step forward is the appointment of our publicist and a big effort by Andrew Jacob on the curatorial work, drafting labels and liaising with the designer.   Dr Andrew Jacob took over a large proportion of the astronomy, horology, meteorology and surveying curatorial roles for the Museum after Dr Nick Lomb, a well-known astronomer, retired in 2009. Andrew is curating the interpretation of the new dome and advising , with Education Manager, Geoff Wyatt, on the telescope.

Astrographic telescope.

The ramp and ‘patio’ slab were poured.

Selecting the best telescope was a major piece of work. Geoff prepared comparisons between many available instruments which would give the best viewing in a city environment and did preliminary budgets for six options. Andrew James, amateur astronomer and astronomy history expert, advised on the selection, and its placement in the dome from the viewpoint of a wheelchair-user. The final decision was to purchase a telescope from a company in Colorado called DFM Engineering which has a purpose-built attachment, called an Articulated Relay Eyepiece.   This extended eyepiece enables a person in a wheelchair to use the telescope by moving the eyepiece closer to them, as demonstrated in the image below, rather than trying to get the person in the wheelchair into a viewing position. It is unique to DFM Engineering.

Astrographic Dome

The Articulated Relay Eyepiece attached to the DFM telescope. Image courtesy DFM.

This week Andrew James came in to see the building progress, discuss some ideas he has for exhibition content and talk in more detail about the finishes and finer points of design. He was very pleased to see we had installed two ‘windows’ into the building site – one at a high and one at a low level- so everyone can see progress on the building. This will enable viewing into the building ‘showcase’ so the 1890 Astrographic Telescope. Andrew Jacob discussed the exhibition design by Claudia Brueheim which enables wheelchair users to get close to the objects and read the labels at a convenient height.

Astrographic dome

Andrew James, skilled amateur astronomer, inspects progress on the new dome.

Jewel Box

The Jewel Box Cluster. Image and copyright M.Bessell, CSIRO.

Then we all enjoyed safe solar viewing with the portable H-Alpha telescope of interesting sunspot groups and a large prominence. Whilst Sydney Observatory has provided an outdoor telescope service for many years for persons with disabilities there is nothing like a dome experience. We discussed the interesting research around the Jewel Box open cluster of stars and double stars which Andrew James has been investigating, and how this beautiful and interesting group of stars was photographed using an Astrographic Telescope in the 1890s, and was still the subject of detailed research in the 1980s. Andrew James is looking forward to bringing in a group from the Muscular Dystrophy Association to experience the new telescope so he can share his enthusiasm and knowledge of astronomy in the dome.

Astrographic telescope

(L to R) The ‘A’ team: Andrew Jacob, Andrew James and Andrew Smith discuss telescopes, wheelchairs and solar observations

Harley Wood on site search In 1958 Harley Wood (on the right), NSW Government astronomer, traveled around NSW inspecting sites for telescopes. Here he is in Dubbo planning the next stage of the search. One of the sites he may have inspected became the Siding Spring Observatory. This long weekend the Observatory holds its “StarFest” open day and celebrates 50 years of operation.


Harley Wood (right) planning site searching, July 1958. Photo © MAAS.

Daily cosmobite: Constellation Aquila, the Eagle

Published by Andrew Jacob on October 1, 2014 No Comments

AquilaThe constellation Aquila, The Eagle, is high in the northern sky. In the northern hemisphere it is said to be flying south to escape the cold northern winter. Perhaps we should say it is flying south to escape the heat of our approaching summer.





 Aquila, the Eagle. Chart generated by TheSky6 © Software Bisque, Inc.





Daily cosmobite: Happy Birthday Phil Plait

Published by Andrew Jacob on September 30, 2014 No Comments

Phil Plait photographed at Sydney Observatory

Happy 50th birthday to Phil Plait, the “Bad Astronomer”. Phil has been a voice of rationality and clear thinking for many years. In 2013 he presented his ironically titled talk “Death from the Skies”, photo below © MAAS.

Daily cosmobite: Training future radio astronomers

Published by Andrew Jacob on September 29, 2014 No Comments

The CSIRO Astronomy and Space Science Radio Astronomy School for 2014 begins today near Narrabri. The next generation of radio astronomers will receive hands-on training to prepare them to make the most of the enormous SKA radio telescope and its precursor instruments.  Beautiful sunrises are part of life at the Australia Telescope site. Photo © CASS.


Radio Antennas at Sunrise Photo © CASS.

This is the second in a series of blogs about the building of a new dome on Sydney Observatory’s heritage site.  In my previous blog I described why a new building was being constructed and who funded the project.  The architects, builders and project managers, who are making a long-term vision now a reality, were acknowledged.

So much has happened in the week beginning 22 September!

Astrograph dome

The polished concrete floor at the base of the dome and in the foyer and display areas as viewed from the time ball tower. Photograph G. Wyatt.

On a clear sunny morning at the start of the week the concrete slab was poured and polished. It is very easy to see the shape of the dome and the foyer in the photograph above. Andrew Jacob, our astronomy curator, inspected the base of on which the pier for the new telescope will sit, to ensure there was enough separation so that any vibration from the floor does not affect the telescope. Other important services such as power and data are now locked in, and the builders confirmed most of the materials have been ordered. One of the challenges of the project is the delivery and installation of the historic dome. In the photograph below taken by astronomy curator Dr Nick Lomb you can see the dome being removed in 1986. The reason for removal was that Macquarie University was planning to build its own observatory in which the telescope located in this dome, and the dome would be re-purposed for further research. Nick worked closely with Professor Alan Vaughan to ensure the instruments, dome , photographic negatives and associated log books were all preserved. Dr Lomb kept his photographic record and now it is useful in determining the best way to return the dome onto the new building.

Susan McMunn and Adam Adair are working closely with Zadro Constructions to keep the building program on-track, and behind the scenes NSW Government Architects Office are providing  advice on numerous details which emerge during the construction phase.

Astrograph dome

Removal of the Dome in 1986. Photograph Nick Lomb.

This project’s target audience is people living with disabilities, so accessibility is core to every part of the project. Whilst the building work is progressing there is much activity and planning behind the scenes for the exhibition, the launch and the programs for which the new facility with its accessible telescope will be used. MAAS  Director, Rose Hiscock, held a meeting with the project’s major funders, NSW Department of Family and Community Services, Ageing, Disability and Home Care to update senior staff on progress and discuss the media strategy. 

In my next blog you will be introduced to an important member of our team, Andrew James, our consultant ‘accessibility’ astronomer. Andrew is a well-known and respected amateur astronomer who is extremely knowledgeable about the night sky and also an authority on the history of astronomy in Australia, particularly Sydney Observatory. Andrew has embarked on a remarkable on-line project making much of the history of our site, as written by the astronomers, publicly available via his website. Andrew will be looking closely at some of the finer details of the new telescope and the exhibition content.

The critical dates for the project completion are delivery of the restored historic dome and astrographic telescope , completion of the building works, installation and commissioning of the new telescope, and installation of the interpretive display.

Astrograph Dome

The project team, Susan McMunn MAAS, John Winter Zadro Constructions, Andrew Jacob MAAS, inspect the recently poured concrete slab. Photograph, Toner Stevenson, MAAS.

Daily cosmobite: Mars and Antares

Published by Andrew Jacob on 1 Comment

Mars is in conjunction with the star Antares on Sunday at 06:00am AEST. Watch Mars over the weekend as it approaches and passes close by Antares, the brightest star in the constellation Scorpius. The two are linked in name also – Antares is translated as “like Mars” or “rival of Mars” although the former seems to be preferred these days. Ares is the Greek name for the God of War and both appear blood-red to the eye.

Mars - NASA

Daily cosmobite: Ole Roemer anniversary

Published by Andrew Jacob on September 25, 2014 No Comments

The Danish astronomer Ole Roemer was born 370 years ago today. He is credited with being the first person to measure the speed of light using observations of Jupiter’s moon Io.


Orionids meteor shower expected to peak on 21 October

Dr Andrew JacobTo help you learn about the southern night sky, Sydney Observatory provides an audio guide/podcast, transcript of that audio, and a sky map or chart each month. This month’s guide is presented by Dr Andrew Jacob (pictured, right), Assistant Curator of Astronomy at Sydney Observatory.

This month, find out how to find the South Celestial Pole, and where to find stars and constellations including Crux (the Southern Cross) and the Pointer stars, the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds, the bright star Antares at the heart of Scorpius. Andrew also tells us about some good photo opportunities from 25th to 28th October when the crescent Moon passes by Saturn, then Antares and finally, Mars. And of course, there is the Orionids meteor shower to look out for during the nights and pre-dawn during October.

For all this and more, listen to the October 2014 night sky guide audio, or read the transcript below.

You can subscribe with iTunes or upload the (24 mins 48 secs) audio to your iPod or mp3 player, or listen to it on your computer.

We provide an embedded sky map (below) and a October 2014 night sky chart (PDF) which shows the stars, constellations and planets visible in the night sky from anywhere in Australia. To view PDF star charts you will need to download and install Adobe Acrobat Reader if it’s not on your computer already.

October 2014 night sky chart

Our annual book, ‘The Australasian sky guide’, by Dr Nick Lomb has more information and star maps for months from December until December inclusive, plus information about the Sun, twilight, the Moon and tides, and a host of other fascinating astronomical information. You can purchase it ($16.95) at Sydney Observatory and Powerhouse Museum shops or other good bookshops, or online through Powerhouse Publishing (additional packing/postage costs apply). You can buy the 2014 book now, or wait until November and buy the 2015 edition – which will be the 25th anniversary edition.

READ THE TRANSCRIPT (after the jump)




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