Observations - news and views on astronomy from Sydney Observatory

Daily Cosmobite: First quarter Moon – Mare Tranquilitatis

Published by Andrew Jacob on October 31, 2014 No Comments

MoonByHargrave.c1880The Moon is at first quarter phase at 1:48pm (AEDT) today. Mare Tranquilitatis, the landing place of Apollo 11, is clearly visible as an irregular dark patch in the middle of the illuminated hemisphere.

The first quarter Moon photographed by Lawrence Hargrave from Sydney Observatory around 1880.






ESO/G. Brammer.MWHorizon.potw1412aIn Spring evenings the Milky Way forms a ring around the horizon, as seen from Australia. At midnight on Halloween look up (or is it down?) and you have a clear view to the universe. Out there countless galaxies hurtle away from you in the expanding universe and far away is the cosmic background radiation – the residual glow of the Big Bang.


Paranal observatory and the Milky Way on the horizon. ESO/G. Brammer.





Daily Cosmobite: Centenary of Sir David Gill’s death

Published by Andrew Jacob on October 29, 2014 2 Comments

David_Gill.wikiSir David Gill died in 1914. Among many achievements he took a photo of the “Great Comet” of 1882. The appearance of previously unseen stars in the background spurred two projects, the Astrographic Catalogue and the Carte du Ciel, to catalogue and map the entire sky using photography.





Sir David Gill.  Lick Observatory collection via wiki.

Dreamtime astronomy: a planetarium and stargazing experience
7pm to 8pm, Tuesday, Friday and some Saturday evenings. 

The Emu as seen at Kuringai state forest.

Emu in the sky. Copyright Barnaby Norris.

Sydney Observatory is located on the land of the Gadigal People of the Eora Nation. During this one hour evening tour you will hear wonderful Indigenous sky stories told by our Aboriginal Astronomy guides under the Sydney Planetarium dome. Also learn how to find south using the Southern Cross and see the emu in the sky. Telescope viewing will follow the planetarium experience. Every tour attempts to view stars, planets or the Moon through a telescope, weather permitting.
Bookings and pre-payments are essential. BOOK ON-LINE NOW !
This tour can be booked for tourism, school, ESL and community groups. A daytime tour is also possible with safe solar telescope viewing.
For enquiries phone 02 9921 3485. Numbers are strictly limited.

Dreamtime Astronomy – night tour prices
Adult – $18
Child (4 to 15 years) – $12
Concession (Australian card-holders) – $14
Family (1 adult and up to 3 children; or 2 adults and up to 2 children) – $50
Member (adult) – $16
Member (child) – $11
Member (family) – $43

MoonMars28Oct2014Tonight look for the Moon and Mars in the west. At 8pm the crescent Moon will be two hand-spans (at arm’s length) above the horizon with orange-red Mars a fist-width above and to the left. The Moon’s light takes 1.3 seconds to reach you while light from Mars tonight takes 13.9 minutes.


The Moon and Mars in the west on October 28 2014.  Chart generated by TheSky6 © Software Bisque, Inc. www.bisque.com.






Daily cosmobite: The Spare-Tyre nebula in Grus

Published by Andrew Jacob on October 27, 2014 1 Comment

IC5148.ESO.wikiConstellation Grus contains the “Spare-Tyre” nebula, a beautiful planetary nebula. A planetary nebula is the final death-throws of a Sun-like star that has shed its outer layers in a final dying gasp. This one is 3000 light years away.



The “Spare-Tyre” nebula in Grus, IC5148. Courtesy of ESO/wiki.






To 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 Melissa Hulbert, Sydney Observatory Astronomy Educator.

In the November sky guide, as well as showing us where to find the constellations Pegasus, Orion and Taurus, and the star clusters, Hyades and Pleiades, Mel tells us the best times to see the bright planets Venus and Jupiter.

Mel also tells us where we can hope to see Comet C/2012 K1 PanSTARRS during November. For this and more, listen to the November 2014 night sky guide audio, or read the transcript below.

You can subscribe with iTunes or upload the (16 minutes 46 seconds) audio to your iPod or mp3 player, or listen to it on your computer.

We provide an embedded sky map (below) and a November 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.

November 2014 night sky chart

Our annual book, ‘The 2015 Australasian sky guide’ by Dr Nick Lomb has more information and star maps for months from December 2014 until December 2015 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). The 2015 edition, which will be the 25th anniversary edition, is now available!

READ THE TRANSCRIPT (after the jump)


6pm to 8:30pm
Thursday 27 November, 2014
Arrive 5:30pm for refreshments
Suitable for Teachers (Years 1-10)

An astronomy session in one of the telescope domesParticipate in an evening workshop designed to hone your teaching skills and knowledge in astronomy, physics and dreamtime astronomy. This workshop suits primary and secondary teachers and has been developed in partnership with the Teachers’ Guild of NSW and co-ordinated by Dr Fred Osman.

Sydney Observatory’s large telescope in the dome and a small portable telescope will be used to familiarise teachers with this technology and each teacher will receive a planisphere (star map) and shown how to use this. You will be divided appropriately into small groups and have an astronomy guide for each component.

The format for the evening is:
5:30pm Refreshments
6pm Safe Solar Viewing through telescopes followed by 3D Space Theatre program focussing on the Solar System, and our Sun (30 minutes)
7:15pm Virtual sky experience and Dreamtime Planetarium led by an Aboriginal Guide in the Sydney Planetarium
7:45pm ‘Telescopes’ the new 3D Space Theatre show
8pm Telescope viewing of the night sky using portable telescopes and binoculars.
8:30pm Dinner in the Rocks at Lucetta will be a separate charge but a great opportunity to discuss the workshop. To reserve dinner email Dr Fred Osman directly.

Cost: $20 per teacher (includes refreshments on arrival and planisphere).
Bookings and pre-payments are essential. BOOK ONLINE.

For enquiries phone 02 9921 3485.

This is the fifth blog in a series which documents building a new dome for Sydney Observatory which is especially designed for people with disabilities and their carers. This project is important to our visitors. Every day and night Sydney Observatory staff  explain to people visiting who cannot make it up the 39 steps to the North and South domes that a new future awaits thanks to funding from the NSW Department of Ageing Disability and Home Care. Over the past two weeks this future progressed and an important delivery was successfully made. Building works are still on schedule for completion by Christmas.  The installation and commissioning of the new accessible DFM telescope with the revolutionary Articulated Relay Eyepiece was locked in and the exhibition will be installed leading up to a grand opening late January 2015.

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. In blog 3 I explained Andrew James’s role advising on accessibility and his deep engagement with the research outcomes from the Astrographic Catalogue and the instruments which will feature in the display inside the new building. In blog 4 I confirmed the name ‘East Dome’  and that the concrete pour had been successful and bricks and block-work walls were progressing.

Astrographic telescope

John Winter, project Manager Zadro Constructions, and Danny grant MAAS facilities Manager , inspect the dome brickwork and ring beam.

This past week the brick and block walls have reached their final heights. The circular brickwork, which forms the base of the dome, was impeccably laid by the builders, Zadro Constructions.  The steelwork ring beam was installed and inspected by the engineer. This is very important because it has to support the copper dome which will be delivered soon.  We can now get a feel for inside the dome, where the lift and stairs will be located. It was good to get a sense of how much area we will have inside the dome for the telescope, the astronomer and the public, some of whom will be in wheelchairs. Look carefully at the photograph above and you can see a rectangular shape on the floor of the dome. This is a separated piece of concrete on which the telescope pier will sit, isolated from any floor vibration. Astronomy curator, Dr Andrew Jacob, has been involved in the project and checking the construction to ensure it will suit our purposes as a public observatory.



Render is applied to the block-work interior wall.

The concrete block-work wall, which delineates the dome from the foyer and exhibition  building, was completed and the electrical wires for power and lighting were roughed in. We were all impressed by the rendered finish of this wall once it was complete and the cement had cured to an even finish.

Friday morning my excitement was hard to contain as we waited for the delivery of the mount for the 13″ refracting astrographic telescope. This telescope and its mount was made by Howard Grubb and Sons in Dublin, Ireland. It was one of eight telescopes made for the international Carte du Ciel ( chart of the sky) and Astrographic Catalogue (star catalogue) projects. It was originally delivered to Melbourne Observatory on 29 December, 1890.  The telescope was purchased by Sydney Observatory in the late 1940s when Melbourne Observatory closed. In 1952 the Astrograph was installed in a new building constructed by the Government Architects branch to the specifications of NSW Government Astronomer, Harley Wood. The telescope was then used to complete the photography of the Sydney zone for the Astrographic Catalogue and take a few replacement photographs for the Melbourne zone. The telescope was operated regularly to complete the Astrographic Catalogue , it was then used to photograph the Southern Sydney Star Catalogue and, when Sydney Observatory ceased astronomical research, amateur astronomers used it to photograph comets and other celestial objects. In 1986 the telescope was transported to Macquarie University and stored until 2008. Over the past 12 months the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences(MAAS) Conservators, Tim Morris and Carey Ward, with the assistance of expert volunteers,  have restored the telescope.

Astrographic telescope

Carey Ward, Toner Stevenson, Geoff Wyatt are very happy to see the return of the Grubb Astrographic Telescope.

The mount was delivered on a flat bed truck and then craned into place very very carefully. Carey, who was an instrument maker at Sydney Observatory from 1980 to 1982, worked with MAAS carpenter, Barry, and MAAS steam engine mechanic, Ralph, to transport the instrument mount and then safely install it. Once installed it was wrapped and then boxed so it will be protected during the completion of building works. The operation took considerable planning by the project management team Danny Grant, Sue McMunn and Adam Adair, and was successfully and safely completed. You can see from the photographs that there are no telescope tubes installed yet. These are still back at the museum workshop. The telescope tubes will be installed before the glass walls are completed because these are also of considerable weight and difficult to manouevre. Once the building work is complete, then the lenses and photographic apparatus will be attached. This will complete the telescope for display.


The Astrograph mount is carefully manoeuvred into place by Carey, Ralph and Barry.

The next step is to get the roof on and more of the walls up and, if progress is made as planned, in the next blog I will be writing about the delivery and installation of the historic dome.





Have an astronomical NEW YEARS EVE 2014  with Sydney Observatory at a special MEMBERS ONLY event.

Tickets are $95 per adult and $52 per child with a family ticket for 2 adults and 2 children of $250 (limit of 1 Family ticket per membership or 4 individual tickets).  Gates open at 19:00 (7pm). After the midnight fireworks the site closes at 00:30 (12:30).  Numbers are strictly limited.

Tickets go on-sale from 10am Wednesday 29 October 2014. There are no pre-sales or holds prior. Please note the best way to secure your tickets is on-line.

Here is the BOOKING LINK.

NYE Sydney Observatory

NYE Sydney Observatory

This special New Year’s Eve family venue is available exclusively to Powerhouse Museum Members and their guests.

Sydney Observatory is a very special location on New Years Eve. Before you book please note that the prime viewing areas are not available for picnics. Picnic areas are on the south and side lawns and the Signal Station site. This is so that everyone has a chance to view the fireworks at 9pm and midnight.  There is not a face-on view of the Harbour Bridge and the surrounding trees do obscure some views of the fireworks but there are plenty of good areas to view the fireworks from 9pm and at midnight when Sydney Observatory drops the Time Ball to signal in the New Year.  Please note that Sydney Observatory is a completely fenced, secure and safe site and the limit on numbers attending the event on the night is 300. On the evening we have security guards and cleaners. We encourage you to bring a picnic blanket. No tents or portable chairs with spiked legs are allowed because of the underground drip watering system.

Sydney Observatory has a licensed bar and will be serving bottles of chilled sparkling and still white and red wine at reasonable prices (between $22 and $30 per bottle) as well as beer options. Plastic glasses will be provided on purchase of the wine (or bring your own non-glass goblets). Soft drinks and flavoured mineral waters will be sold in bottles and cans, also with plastic glasses, as well as snacks such as chips and crackers at reasonable prices. Please be aware that BYO alcohol is not permitted. Free tea and coffee will once again be provided by Museum volunteers.

The Observatory building will be open from 7:15pm until 8:45pm on the night and, if the weather permits, telescope viewing will be made available. There will be no food or drink permitted inside the Observatory buildings.

Delicious gourmet hampers for two are able to be purchased directly from the Langham Hotel chef and collected on arrival at Sydney Observatory. The cost is $130 for the hamper. Please contact the Langham Hotel directly on (02) 8248 5220 or email: tlsyd.rsvn@langhamhotels.com

All profits support the heritage and collection program at Sydney Observatory. No refunds will be made and the event proceeds regardless of weather.

Please note that The City of Sydney will have security measures in place preventing glass and alcohol to be bought onto Observatory Hill. Plan to use public transport. For all transport information and road closures on the day please see


In keeping with a NSW Government requirement Sydney Observatory applies a surcharge on all transactions made by debit or credit cards. Surcharge rates are on a cost-recovery basis only.Payments made on Visa and Mastercard will attract 0.40%. No surcharge will be incurred when paying with EFTPOS or cash.



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