Siding Spring Observatory under fire

For once that headline is not about some astro-political hullabaloo, as today Siding Spring Observatory, Australia’s largest optical observatory, lay in the path of a fearsome bushfire. Australian bushfires bring back bad memories for Australian astronomers, as exactly 10 years ago this week another one of their observatories, at Mt Stromlo, was severely damaged in a similar fire. So it’s been an anxious day for the Australian community, and for all of us worldwide who were stuck helplessly reading blogs and tweets from those in the country.

Fortunately, it seems like all the staff were safely evacuated and the telescopes are ok – though, as I understand it, damage assessment is still under way.

Amanda Bauer (astropixie to most of you) has an excellent and extensive set of updates, links and pictures, and her blog post has gathered a large number of comments from astronomers and locals.

Stay safe, Ozzies!


  1. Eric Hayman says:

    Having been personally involved in two bush fires in Australia, and putting out scrub fires in the UK,
    I still wonder why almost all Australians think that bush fires will never affect them or their homes or places of work.

    Houses are still being built amongst trees, even though once a bush fire takes hold, the houses might just as well be on a crumbling cliff.

    The Siding Spring Observatory pictures show trees and scrub close to the buildings – a real invitation for fire damage. Why weren’t they cut back? Why no recyclable emergency water tanks to be used in case of bush fires. When the millions of Aussie dollars are spent on the telescopes, etc, what would be ten thousand on damage protection?

  2. Well, several accounts have said that after the Mt Stromlo fire, efforts were made to improve the fire safety at SSO. Seeing as all the telescopes appear to have escaped serious damage, this seems to have paid off? I don’t know any details though – my Australian colleagues would know more about all that. I’m just relaying some info here….

  3. Hi Eric, as Sarah said many extra precautions were taken at SSO after the fires that destroyed Mt Stromlo Observatory 10 years ago. Thas is the reason why the astronomical facilities at SSO have escaped with practically no damage after the recent bushfires. However the situation of the houses was different, more considering many of them have been there for ~50 years! and built with material which is easily burnt.

    Thursday last week (14th Feb) we resumed scientific observations at the AAT. Although we were using the multi-fibre system 2dF and the AAOmega spectrograph we were able to get a nice image of the Spindler galaxy using the 2dF auxiliar camera, as I explained in my blog:

    On Friday 15th Feb we even observed the famous near-Earth asteroid 2012 DA14! Movies and images in here: