Archive for the ‘Astronomy’ Category

Equations, and stuff

July 2, 2017

Here’s some bizarre scientific equations to while away the time. Soon I will post about the 2010 cycling trip in Sweden and then as it proceeds, the 2017 trip that is about to happen.

Astronomy is always a source of, er, astronomical numbers. Very massive things (like, black holes) emit gravity waves as they move about. Well, so do less massive things, but then the gravity waves are harder to detect. I have to say “massive” rather than “heavy”, as things can only be heavy if they happen to be near the Earth. I tried to run a competition once, to gues the weight of the Great Melbourne Telescope’s clock-driving weight:

which in fact weighs about 229 kg. I was correctly told that its mass is 229 kg, it only weighs that because it happens to be near the Earth – it would weigh nothing if it were in outer space, although it would be expensive to get it there – and if it were taken to the North Pole it would weigh less. I got one helpful answer listing what its weight would be if it were on various other planets, and pointing out that it would weigh 216 milligrams less when at the top of its 10-foot vertical travel, just after the clock had been fully wound, minus 59 milligrams for the air it displaces, which is less dense if you go up 10 feet.

Two weighty questions – answers at end of this post – Supposing you have a meat pie for lunch, where would be the best place to find out how heavy it is? And where would be a good place to weigh a whale?

Anyway, back to gravity waves; I was at a talk about these the other day. With the very most sensitive apparatus working under the most delicate conditions, scientists were just about able to detect the gravity waves from two unusually large black holes that were orbiting one another. Here’s the mathematical equation giving the energy radiated by gravity waves from a pair of objects orbiting one another

You see “c” there, well that is the speed of light, and here it is being raised to the 5th power, so the numbers are pretty vicious. We need hardly bother with the factor of 32/5.

Now this power can be worked out for the Earth orbiting the Sun; and between them, they are radiating 200 watts into space by this means. (The Sun radiates more than that, from other processes). Now this perpetual loss of 200 watts is taken from the Earth’s orbital energy, causing the Earth to spiral in towards the Sun, and indeed eventually to fall right in, which will happen after a time of 3,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 years, given by :

Isn’t that reassuring? The brightness of galaxies on the surface of the night sky is measured in mJy.kpc2 (milliJansky square kiloparsec) and 1 mJy.kpc2 is about 9,521,540,000 kg metre-squared per second squared. Please do not confuse that with mJy per square kiloparsec, because one of those would be about 0.00000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000105025 kg PER metre-squared second-squared. Woops.

This brings to mind a joke about cosmologists (who study the origin of the universe) – levity, not gravity. One of them was trying to calculate some sort of cosmological constant, and wanted some measurements done at a radio telescope, and the next day the engineers told him “We did a quick first set of measurements, and we estimated your constant as being between 6 and 7 – maybe 6.3, very roughly.” “That is a very encouraging result”, said the cosmologist, “please do some more measurements and refine it.” Four weeks later “We’ve done the accurate measurements and now your constant is determined to be 873,000 billion”. Cosmologist grins and says “That is an even MORE encouraging result”.

The Pythagorean Expectation in baseball is an attempt to predict the percentage of wins that a team should be getting, based on their past performance. One formula is: % = rs2 / (rs2 + ra2) where rs and ra = runs scored and runs allowed. Now some commentators applied this to basketball and use different exponents: Daryl Morey used the 14th powers, % = rs14 / (rs14 + ra14) and John Hollinger used 16th powers. Approximately. Thus, the New York Yankees in 2002 scored 897 points and allowed 697 points; so they should have won 89716 / (89716 + 69716) = 98.2% of their games. One day I’ll post about asymmetric cryptography, where the exponents go much, much higher but can still be brought back into the real world.

Ah yes. The best place to weigh a pie is somewhere over the rainbow; with reference to the song “Somewhere Over the Rainbow – Weigh a Pie …”; and whales should of course be weighed at a whale-weigh station. I’d better stop now; next post will be about my trip this weekend to Woomargama.


New Zealand’s Space Program

May 25, 2017

This is New Zealand. (At the bottom right).

And this is the main part of the North Island, with the Mahia Peninsula sticking out of the SE coast.

Here’s the Mahia Peninsula. You can stay at the Onenui Farm Stay, I am sure it’s very nice. But note those bare paddocks right at the southern tip – that is part of Onenui Station.

That’s the farmer, and some of his sheep, which seem to have gone out of the gate. It probably doesn’t matter much.

But what is that in the middle of the bare paddock?
It is the launch site for the NZ Space program.

The company involved, Rocket Lab, 3-D print their rockets. Now, the NASA rockets cost $100 million and upwards. Elon Musk’s Space-X rockets cost $60 million, but he brings them back down the right way up (as opposed to the usual disastrous “nose down” method of re-entry) and re-uses them. But Rocket Lab’s NZ rockets cost only $5 million. They can 3-D print a new one in 24 hours.

That’s one fresh off the printer, (“here’s one I made this morning”), and here it comes. Maybe towed by the farmer’s tractor?

They had the Onenui launch site blessed by the local Maori elder.

The first rocket is ready to launch today – they are waiting for the weather to clear. As well as a 150kg satellite to be put into orbit, the rocket will carry Maori artefacts and a sample of Onenui soil into space.

How very civilised.

Here in Australia we don’t even HAVE a space program.
God bless New Zealand.

… and it was the best birthday I ever had. W’ll d’n, f’llas.

The Ringworld

April 5, 2017

I’m an amateur astronomer and member of the Astronomical Society of Victoria, which 10 years ago was asked to send a speaker to a primary school in a mid-Victorian town. Foolishly I volunteered, and on the day I was treated to lunch in the town’s only cafe, a guided tour of the area, tea and cakes after I’d spoken to the kids, and a BBQ in the evening. Here’s me waffling to the kids:

The whole school had been doing a 3-week Space Project about anything space-related. They had been reading about the planets and stars and galaxies and deep space. And they’d done poster projects on spacey themes:

Why am I telling you this? Because something hit me that I want to share with you. You’ve just seen it, actually.

Most amateur astronomers have other science-y interests and the older ones have generally read a lot of science fiction books (the middle-aged ones tend to follow Star Dreck). Devotees of “hard” science fiction – which seemed to end in about 1980, when sci-fi all went over to fantasy – will know of the books by Larry Niven, prominent among which is the Ringworld series.

The Ringworld is a concept related to the Dyson Sphere – Freeman Dyson, who I see is still going at 92, pointed out that a sufficently advanced civilisation on some distant planet would have a lot of apparatus in orbit to take energy from their star, and eventually might have enclosed their star completely, in which case we wouldn’t see it. (Actually, we would – the shell around the star would eventually have to heat up, and we’d see it as a sort of large dull-red star, like Betelgeuse). Freeman Dyson wrote some great books about his time in WW2 and since, notably about Project Orion – a spacecraft having a metre-thick beryllium plate at the back, to be propelled by shooting atomic bombs from Earth at it. In 1957 this was a serious proposition, and the project was highly classified.

The Ringworld was a much lesser but more realisable idea, a wide band of tough material (yet to be invented) all around the star, in the orbit of what had been a planet. An inner set of whopping great metal plates would cast shadows on it, to make day and night. In the Ringworld books, the band is about 100,000 miles across and 250 million miles around – giving it a surface area of about 100,000 times what we have now.

These sketches give you the idea; I read the book 40 years ago. And then, 10 years ago there I was, standing in front of these poor kids in this poor school, shamefully deprived of resources and funding as are all country schools, waffling on about planets and eclipses and what it would be like to land on the various planets (… unpleasant, or extremely unpleasant) and my gaze wandered over to the wall of poster projects. And I saw this. I stopped in mid sentence and stared.

Out there in this bush town, some kid, some unvarnished kid of 8 years old, had drawn the Ringworld. A concept parallel to the thinking of Freeman Dyson, but independently invented in a bush town, with only rudimentary education and help. This was ten years ago … so what other ideas has that kid, who’d now be 18, what might he (or she) have thought up? What genius lies out there? What untapped resources of intellect?

But I am reminded of a depressing quote, possibly by Barack Obama, that for every Shakespeare, Mozart, or Einstein there are probably 30 or 50 equally gifted people who are stuck working in menial jobs, not visible at all, their talent lost to us.


March 2, 2015


Today I tell three stories: A mysterious prehistoric tale, a tale of the misadventures of youth, and a tale of fading memory. 4000 years, 41 years, and 24 hours.

Long long ago some people dragged some large stones into a field … but this tale has been told elsewhere. A later civilisation banged a road right past it, installed some paths so people could approach the stones – I remember putting my greasy paws directly on the stones when I was a schoolboy, and trying to climb up them, you’re not allowed to do that any more – and they put a fence around it, to stop people approaching it at times when the vibrations were negative (i.e. when the ticket booth was closed).


Less long ago, but quite a while ago – in late August 1973 to be exact, I have a memory like an elephant – there were 8 of us Londoners and we decided to drive to Cornwall to visit someone’s friend in St Ives. We had two Mini’s, imagine the discomfort, we set off at midnight so as to arrive at breakfast time. The journey would take 8 hours, and we stopped at 3am next to Stonehenge to drink coffee from a thermos. It was bloody cold and the 8 of us stood there shivering in that lay-by of the A303, the monoliths of Stonehenge looming darkly in the neighbouring field, looking very psychic and far-out; we absorbed the cosmic vibes. Peace, man.


Several of us – not me though – decided they’d jump over the fence (easily jumped-over in those days) and look at the stones close up, avoiding the capitalist charges that were exploited from daytime visitors. They set off into the darkness and for a couple of minutes nothing happened. They crossed over the field and got among the stones. It must have been amazingly atmospheric to be there among the very stones of Stonehenge, alone in the darkness.

At that point, one of the the security guards who had been watching with infra-red glasses in the darkness turned on ALL the floodlights.

Imagine the cosmic vibrations then experienced by our furtive nocturnal tourists! On a scale of far-outness from 1 to a thousand, this must have scored a million. Alien spaceships descended, the ley lines glowed, the sky sparkled with an ethereal unity and psychic oneness, with the addition of about a megawatt of man-made artificial illumination. Wow. Oh wow …. of course their cosmic experience then became a bit more mundane and was followed by an official telling-off and an embarrassed trudge back to the cars.

But what an experience they would have had. I forget exactly who was with me, I did not know all of the 8 people anyway, and apart from Woody who drove one of the cars I have long forgotten exactly who was there that weekend.

I have been telling this tale now for 41 years, like the Ancient Mariner, to anyone who would listen. And yesterday Woody flew in from London and we had a bit of a reunion with some other old mates from that primordial period in London long ago, some of us hadn’t met for years. And I told this story to one lady who listened with great interest, absorbing every detail and finally saying, Steve, I know this story very well because IT WAS ME THAT DID IT.

Ven (Hven)

September 12, 2014

The tiny island of Ven (Danish: Hven) lies between Sweden and Denmark, at the northern end of the strait of Oresund. Oddly, it seems to have no strategic value, despite being placed bang in the middle of the only viable exit from the Baltic Sea. There are no fortifications or guns, etc.

We got the ferry from Landskrona for the 30-minute journey. It was the height of summer and there were hordes of tourists. Very soon the island was clearly delineated, and you could see it, too.

This view of the Ven lighthouse, only three kilometres across the water from Landskrona, contrasts the industrial mess of the mainland with the cute holiday mode of the island. We sailed into its little port.

Now. (click on the above picture) You see the green bus coming down the steep hill – the grey roofs directly above that, on the horizon and among the trees, belong to the Bike Hire place. Everyone needs a bike on Ven, and the picture below shows less than half of the stock of bikes for hire.

So when the ferry docks, you don’t want to be at the back of the crowd, with hordes of tourists puffing and panting their way up the hill to form an enormous queue at Ye Olde Bike Shoppe. Enterprising farmers wait with their tractors, towing people-carrying trailers. Our host for the day was savvy enough to be first off the ferry; being fit, he ran hard up the hill, and he had set up the bikes by the time we got there.

Now we were on two wheels, with the whole island before us. To ride right across it would take, oh, 15 minutes:

We therefore adopted a dignified and leisurely style, which as a famed exponent of the relaxed manner in all things (writing blog posts, for example) I now demonstrate.

The bike has a cabled front brake; its rear brake is operated by back-pedalling, like most Swedish bikes, as I kept finding out. Then there are 3 gears, a stand, and a basket for putting things in. We were given locks and keys, but as all the bikes were numbered I don’t know who would steal one, or where they might go on it if they did.

It was mid July and the spectacular yellow canola crops had just been harvested, so the fields actually looked like this:

That’s the only steep slope on the island … see how burned brown the grass is. It was bloody hot! But there were bucolic countryside views, and even a beach. And all over the island, anything historical – which means anything to do with the 16th-century astronomer Tycho Brahe – had a sign with a bar code.

This last sign says that pupils of the local school are used as slave labour to restore and document the island’s historical sites. Well, they can’t escape unless they can swim 5 km. And it’s probably better than lessons indoors, except in the winter. There’s some very small print at the bottom, which says “We do not take responsibility for historical correctness; we simply want to illustrate how life on Ven has changed through the ages”.

Yup, it’s a disclaimer. So the school kids are learning something useful after all.

Next post: Tycho Brahe, and his observatory on Ven. I am giving a talk tonight at the Mt Burnett Observatory. Discerning readers should earnestly avoid this event. But for homework, please look at this brilliant, historically correct, rap song with Brahe and Kepler.


January 15, 2014

… or København, as the Danes call it. Honestly, these foreigners that can’t spell …

Copenhagen is s city of spires, mostly green copper ones from the 18th century. Every view in the city shows characteristic spires on the older buildings. In this view, you can see the bridge between Copenhagen and Malmo, Sweden in the background. More of this anon.

As in all northern European cities they take cycling seriously … possibly because there would be no room for all the cars if everyone took theirs out for a spin. This is one of many bike parks near a railway station.

If you’re British then Copenhagen is famous for the 1801 naval Battle Of, in which (then) Vice-Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson led the attack, but in the middle of heavy fighting against the Danish Fleet was commanded (by flag signal) to withdraw, and he put his blind eye to the telescope to read the signal. Actually that is a legend – he was commanded to withdraw whenever he felt like it, as the Danes were fighting so fiercely, but he decided to fight on and so was later able to negotiate a dignified cease-fire, with many lives spared. You should read up about this, and Nelson’s even more inspiring conduct of the Battle of Trafalgar, if you’re British (or if you’re not).

We had a free day – today, with two more to come – the previous 9 days were all cycling with no day off (but some days were pretty slack as regards cycling). We checked out of the Grand Hotel, and checked into our new flat – an artist’s flat in a quiet northern quarter, but still within the old town and within walking range of the city centre. Six of us will share this flat – two ladies on their own, us two and another married couple. Most of us trundled off to see the Botanic Gardens, but I found the Geological Museum at the far corner of the park and left the ladies to look at the flowers. Lovely formal garden –

Pretty yellow flowers. These had a fractal structure, like a cauliflower has – the flowers look the same if you zoom in to any scale.

Danish weeds. We already knew all about Danish weeds, which grow densely beside the bike paths where these are not well maintained. Surely a weed is only a flower in the wrong place?

Punch and Judy show – probably illegal in UK/Aus now due to violence, sexism, portrayal of police violence and low-class stereotypes, cruelty to the crocodile, etc.

The Geological Museum had many exhibits of the complex geological history of Denmark/Sweden and also Greenland, which until recently was a Danish colony (making Denmark by far the biggest colonial power in the world, in terms of the area of its empire). Here’s a drawing of a Great Auk. Note its dismal expression.

When Great Auks became known to Western society, there was a stampede by all the museums to get one. Large rewards were offered and Great Auks, the most spectacular bird of the species at 80 cm tall, were in particular demand. Stuffed auks were displayed all over the world. In this mad rush the last two living Great Auks were killed, off the coast of Iceland, on 3 July 1844: Jón Brandsson and Sigurður Ísleifsson strangled the adult pair and Ketill Ketilsson smashed their single egg with his boot.

Equally ghastly in its way is the removal of the 3rd and 5th largest meteorites in the world from Greenland. Greenland’s only railway was built for the transport of the 31-ton Ahnighito to America. The 5th largest, Agpalilik, is here in Copenhagen. Yes, these meteorites have individual names.

As you can see, a piece of the 20-ton Agpalilik was sliced off for analysis, and yielded much new information about the Solar System and cosmology. Meteorites were the only source of iron in Greenland – the locals call iron “sky-metal”. It took many decades for Europeans and Americans to find where the meteorites were. Agpalilik was discovered by Europeans in 1963.

Phoenix 8

May 28, 2013

The Great Melbourne Telescope, built in 1868

Readers may recall that I am involved with restoring this mighty 1868 cast-iron telescope. Parts of it were severely damaged in a bushfire in 2003, but much of the original telescope was in storage at Museum Victoria. Amateurs and volunteers are rebuilding it. I edit a newsletter “PHOENIX” about the progress of the work and the latest issue has just come out – download it from here or get it, and all the previous issues, all free, from the GMT’s own website or the ASV’s website!

Day 17 – Goreme to Amasya

June 8, 2012

Back on the bike again with just a brief stop to snap these even more remarkable rock formations just outside Goreme. The rock is worn away by rain (CO2 in the rain dissolves the limestone) but the boulder on the top preserves the rock underneath.

Shown below is a pottery wine jug in the traditional style of this area, the idea is you put your arm through the hole and sling it over your shoulder, and can then pour wine. You could never clean it out. And I don’t know how they make these, maybe in two symmetrical halves. Oh yes, this blog is so cultural today.

But back to motorcycling and we had another day on surprisingly good roads, with the occasional road works, but with several tunnels one 4 km long. Now the tunnels in Switzerland were very well lit, especially at the beginning, when you come in from the sunlight. However the Turkish tunnels are, well, dark. So dark that (with one’s eyes used to sunlight) even your own headlight does not illuminate anything and you wonder if the headlight is working at all. Then, in some tunnels to help people stay in lane, they put a line of cones down the middle of the road but there are no cones outside the tunnel, so their presence is quite a surprise. (I was in a car in Melbourne whose driver was afraid of tunnels; as we headed for the Mullum Mullum tunnel we regaled her with stories of the Great Roof Collapse of 2009. And of the incident when a petrol tanker collided with a truckload of anthrax spores that was stuck in the tunnel. And the trolls and beasts that live in the tunnel, and how very sticky the tarmac can be, etc)

The Turkish drivers are generally polite and helpful but there are some aggressive a**eholes, especially when you get near a city. Must be the stress of city life. When we enter a town, if it has traffic lights, they can show red and green AT THE SAME TIME and this is common on the pedestrian crossings also. It means you can go, or stop, as you wish, and guess which option people take …

Anyway I digress, we rode north from Goreme through Bogazliyan and Sorgun to Amasya. The riding was now at a more relaxed pace (80-100 kph instead of 110-130 kph) and there was time to take pictures, but the view although stunning were not really photograph-able. Today we had a mixture of gently sloping green fields, poplar trees and farm crops. After Sorgun, the town of Cekerek appeared as we came over a mountain pass, beyond a lake and would have made a cute photograph, had I been able to stop safely; then the town of Zile, also a very cute view. People at the Sadik Petrol Station at Zile (hi guys!) were very interested in us and the bikes; one of us has a little toy rubber ball, painted as a world globe on which we showed them our ride from London through Istanbul, Moscow and Magadan. They think we’re crazy!

Finally at 5pm we hit Amasya, another UNESCO preserved historical
village but also part of a major town. A river runs through it, with a sharp bend, and there are book stalls along the bank, with a vibrant social atmosphere that continues well beyond 11pm. On one side of the river a towering cliff has tombs dug into its face and a castle on the top; our hotel was under some of the tombs, its restaurant jutting out over the river. I could not get out until after dark to take pictures.

When trying to photograph the mosque I set the camera up on a tripod and paid all my attention to the camera, without seeing what had got in front of the lens … these are two of our tour leaders, ever anxious for our welfare:

Here’s another mosque, with tombs behind and castle on top of the hill:

Look at this, this is “the First Asylum in Anatolia where the patients with mental disorders were cured”. They don’t say what happened to the patients WITHOUT mental disorders. Or how the curing was done (by adding salt and hanging them over a smoky fire?). Or why they put up gates to stop people getting in. Or whether Anatolia was leading or lagging behind the rest of the world in the curing of the insane. But really it’s not a big deal, because if anyone ever got cured at all in Anatolia, then there must be exactly one asylum that was the first one where this happened, and here it is:

Our bikes in the cute narrow road outside the hotel:

The tourist guidebook to Amasya relates the following story, very likely apocryphal. The British once (no date given – maybe the war of Anatolia in 1919??) captured the town, took down the Turkish flag and hoisted the Union Jack. A mighty storm arose, with a fierce wind that tore the Union Jack from the flagpole and blew it into the river, where the foaming waters carried it away, never to be seen again. Stories like that, and the location of Amasya as the start of Kemal Ataturk’s Turkish War of Independence, make the Turks very proud of this town.

Finally here’s the Full Moon as seen from Turkey. It is the wrong way up compared to how it appears in Australia (where, of course, it appears the right way up). You see the small black dot at 2 o’clock on the edge of the disk? That is Mare Crisium, and from Australia, where you stand up at another angle relative to the Universe, it appears at about 10 o’clock on the disk. In movies, if the full Moon appears, you can tell where the movie was filmed.

One for my Astronomy friends

May 7, 2012

The very good and FREE exhibition of guns at Fort Nelson, Portsmouth features two of the dozens of huge steel tubes that Saddam Hussein was trying to assemble into a gun in the 1980’s. (Nobody told him that the barrrel would be so long that it would have to be fixed in position, therefore all the shells would fall at the same place, and then everyone would know not to put anything at that place.) The steel flanges – my friend Mike gives an idea of scale – remind me so much of parts 508/509 of the Great Melbourne Telescope, and the steel was restored by painstaking work with wire brushes. GMT fans will also appreciate the 1464 Turkish gun in two parts that screw together.

Farewell, to Moreland at least

March 28, 2012

So this is my last workshop on the Great Melbourne Telescope for a while; I will miss the next 24 weekly workshops here in Moreland. I love Moreland and Sydney Road, all of life is there. But at the telescope workshops, the guys all go to lunch in an Awful Cafe despite the dozens of wonderful eateries of Sydney Road lying at their feet. You can get a fried egg, etc and it’s not as bad as it used to be. But while scoffing my wretched lunch today I reflected that there’ll be times on the Road of Bones when I’m going to wish I was back at the Awful Cafe. The food in Mongolia and Russia can be dire, although we have been promised 4-star hotels where possible and decent tucker for the whole Road of Bones trip. (“Four star” because there are holes in the roof). Here’s a plateful of pretty good Mongolian food from 2006:

But to return to Moreland, which is not much like Mongolia at all. A last visit to my favourite Indian grocer, where they have big tins of spinach useful in my attempts to lose weight and emulate Popeye, and they have those packeted Indian meals that you can microwave. Except this time there was no spinach, and no more of the $1 packeted meals with a line drawn on the packet to show they were past their best-before date, which I don’t mind because the food keeps perfectly for years (in 2005 I once found some food marked 1994 in a shop that was still edible, the food that is, or perhaps the shop would have tasted better; “best before – MDCCCLXVII”). I bought such sealed-food packets in a market once, and they were marked “Property of Indian Army” – good heavens, the Indian Army goes into battle on this stuff! Having been up there where the real Indian Army was, I can quite believe it – I cycled past a platoon of about 80 soldiers, all over 6 feet tall, with the best new equipment, marching off in a determined style to spend a week outside in the Himalayas at 5,000m.

Anyway, in preparing my motorbike for the journey, there I was on the scrounge for a piece of aluminium and I was directed to an obscure barn in Moreland with no signage; it was full of engineering stuff – lathes, cutting and folding machines, overhead drills, you name it – a couple of oily blokes in there and they gave me a piece for free – a piece of aluminium that is. To the engineer who helped me and donated this, thank you! Using it, and some bolts from my favourite hardware shop … … I fashioned my own extension to my motorbike’s under-engine bash plate. In September I hope to be able to post a picture of what this looks like after passing over thousands of miles of Russian dirt roads. “to be able” because I may be stuck in Vladivostok for some days with the airport closed and all the hotels full.

My favourite hardware shop is also in Sydney Road; today I said an emotional farewell to my friends there. It is the most amazing huge hardware shop, possibly the only one left that is just like they were in old times. For the telescope we were desperate for some 12-inch Imperial-gauge 3/8″ Whitworth bolts, and they had them right there (and, more usefully, upon the payment of some money they allowed us to take them away).

More of my adventures in Moreland are on the back page of each issue of PHOENIX magazine, a fun read which tries to chart the progress of work on the Great Melbourne Telescope. Download all issues free from here.

The Great Melbourne Telescope

March 12, 2012

The Great Melbourne Telescope, built in 1868

This mighty cast-iron instrument, once the biggest steerable telescope in the world and the pride of 19th-century Melbourne, is being restored for public use from 2015. Built in Ireland in 1868 – 50 years before the Titanic – it was ruined in the disastrous ACT bushfires of 2003. The fires raised the whole instrument to 500*C, burning off all the plastic and aluminium and all that modern stuff that had been added over the years, leaving only the original cast iron which is still structurally viable. The mirror and lenses were completely shattered, and then covered with molten aluminium dropping from the melting dome, and then the whole wreck was left outside for five Canberra summers and winters … but it can be restored to original condition and the ASV, MV and RBG jointly are proceeding with the task. Most of the original 1868 parts were in storage at Museum Victoria, and remain undamaged. Why am I telling you all this? Because I spend every Wednesday hard at it, and I edit the project’s house magazine PHOENIX, whose issue #7 has just come out and is a brilliant and amusing read. Read or freely download Phoenix issue #7 or get it, and all the previous issues, all free, from the GMT’s own website or the ASV’s website!