Sydney Observatory exhibits explore the themes of astronomy and meteorology, as well as providing a glimpse of the Sydney Observatory’s place as a leading centre for astronomical and meteorological research in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
You may borrow a self-guided tour and plan of the Observatory building from Reception which will give you more of an idea of what you can see and do here. We have provided a printable copy of the self-guided Sydney Observatory exhibits tour here if you would rather see and/or print one before you visit.
SYDNEY OBSERVATORY – GROUND FLOOR
By the light of the southern stars
The exhibits in the ground floor rooms make up the exhibition ‘By the light of the southern stars’, a history of Australian astronomy and the southern night sky. Displays include original instruments from the past and present, specially-built hands-on exhibits to intrigue children and adults alike, and unique audiovisuals.
Share the fascination of the astronomers who have worked at Sydney Observatory and marvel at some of the instruments they used. Take a guided trip through time as Henry Chamberlain Russell, Government Astronomer from 1870-1905 talks about his life at the Observatory.
See two of the clocks Matthew Flinders, who captained the first voyage around Australia and prepared a detailed chart of the coastline, relied on for accurate navigation.
Observatory Hill is the highest natural point in Sydney Harbour. Originally part of the Eora people’s land (like the rest of Sydney), after colonisation it became the site of a windmill, then a fort, then a signal station, and finally an observatory. View the changes on and around the hill through objects, graphics and a computer interactive that explores Sydney through the use of colonial pictures.
Enjoy one of the best views in Sydney with virtual reality technology and compare the view you can see today from the top of Sydney Observatory’s time ball tower, with the same view from the 1800s.
Find out about the time keeping, surveying, meteorological and astronomical photographic work carried out here through a display of the Observatory’s own 19th and 20th century instruments.
In ‘The solar system: the sun and its family’ part of the exhibition, take charge of the solar system and make the Moon circle the Earth and the planets circle the Sun. Use an interactive to watch the Earth spin on its axis and orbit around the Sun as the Moon orbits around the Earth to create night and day, the seasons and the phases of the Moon.
Cadi Eora birrung
Aboriginal people were Australia’s first astronomers and they have watched the southern sky for more than 18,000,000 nights. This exhibit shows constellations in the southern sky and explains how they were created from an Aboriginal perspective.
The stories are told through animation and interactives, providing a unique perspective of our night sky.
SYDNEY OBSERVATORY – FIRST FLOOR
On the first floor via the Transit Room staircase is ‘Transit of Venus: the biggest ruler in the world’. And on the first floor via the reception area staircase is the meteorological exhibition, ‘Observing the weather’.
The south and north telescope domes are reached from the first floor – but you need to be on an astronomy educator led session to go into the domes and see and use the telescopes.
Transit of Venus – a small display about this rare astronomical event
On the afternoon of Tuesday 8 June 2004, the planet Venus crossed in front of the Sun. When Venus’s dark silhouette moved across the disc of the Sun – a transit of Venus – we witnessed one of the rarest and most famous events in astronomy. This was the first transit of the planet in more than 120 years.
Transits of Venus were important in past centuries because they provided the opportunity to measure the distance of the Earth from the Sun and hence determine the scale of the solar system. It was Edmond Halley, of Halley’s Comet fame, who pointed out the feasibility of using transits for this purpose.
The most celebrated transit, in June 1769, was observed from many places. One of the observers was Lieutenant James Cook who sailed to Tahiti with the astronomer Charles Green in the ship HMS Endeavour. After observing the transit, Cook opened sealed orders from the Admiralty to search for the unknown southern continent. He did not find this mythical land, but did claim New Zealand and New South Wales for the British Crown.
Observing the weather
What was Sydney’s hottest day? Its wettest day? Its wildest storm? Find out the answer to these questions in this new exhibition at Sydney Observatory – which opened to coincide with the Observatory’s 150th anniversary celebrations in June 2008.
A video sets the scene with people who lived through such events from 1938 to 2006 telling their fascinating personal stories of how they were affected. The exhibits include hail-damaged items together with hands-on displays that enables visitors to form clouds and to discover why rain falls from some varieties but not others. A specially designed audiovisual clearly explains some of the very basics of global warming that are rarely covered elsewhere.
Sydney Observatory is normally associated with telescopes and observing the sky. However, when it began operating, the Observatory had a variety of additional tasks such as timekeeping, surveying and weather recording.
‘Observing the weather’ illustrates the work of Sydney Observatory in beginning systematic weather observations in NSW. The first Government Astronomer, Reverend William Scott, set up a chain of country observing stations, including one at the ‘Lunatic Asylum at Parramatta’.
From 1908, the Commonwealth Bureau of Meteorology took over the Observatory’s weather role. Among the variety of items relevant to the activities of the Bureau in the exhibition is a mesmerising working example of a tipping bucket rain gauge, the type of rain gauge that the Bureau uses today.