Wambelong Fire (Coonabarabran)

Like me, I’m sure many of you have also been following the fire that went through Siding Spring Observatory and surrounds. It was particularly tough knowing it was almost 10 years ago to the day, that fires destroyed the Mt Stromlo Observatory in Canberra. If Mt Stromlo was the heart of Australian astronomy, surely Siding Spring is its soul.

Thankfully, lessons were learnt from that event and it appears that measures put into place may have saved the dozen or so telescopes on the mountain.

However, there has been major damage to the area, with the NSW Rural Fire Service reporting that some 40 properties and over 110 out-buildings have been confirmed lost as well as a large number of livestock and farm machinery. The local wildlife has also been hard hit.

Warrumbungle Shire Council has set up the Warrumbungle Shire Mayor’s Bushfire Appeal to assist residents who have been affected by the fire. As we’ve seen before, it’s such a dreadful thing to have happened. While much praise has been given to the Rural Fire Service for their tireless efforts.

As for the telescopes, here is the latest update from Kate Brooks, President of the Astronomical Society of Australia.

The square "dome" on the left houses the ANU's 2.3 metre telescope which stayed a comfortable 20 degrees throughout the fire. The dome to the top right is the new SkyMapper telescope, led by Nobel Laureate Brian Schmidt and built to continue the work of the Great Melbourne Telescope after it was destroyed in the Mt Stromlo fires. Temperatures there peaked at 65 °C. Source: Rural Fire Services

The square “dome” on the left houses the ANU’s 2.3 metre telescope which stayed a comfortable 20 degrees throughout the fire. The dome to the top right is the new SkyMapper telescope, led by Nobel Laureate Brian Schmidt and built to continue the work of the Great Melbourne Telescope after it was destroyed in the Mt Stromlo fires. Temperatures there peaked at 65 °C. Source: Rural Fire Services

The ANU continue to post updates on the fire damage to Siding Spring Observatory.

A further visual assessment of the SSO site has confirmed:
– 3 buildings have been destroyed (The Lodge, a cottage and a storage building)
– 3 buildings have been badly damaged (The Visitors Centre and two sheds)
– 4 telescopes appear to have some smoke damage to their buildings

A new update on fire damage at the Mopra Telescope is available on the ATNF website.

Located down the mountain from SSO, the Mopra Telescope operates at millimetre wavelengths to investigate molecules within star forming regions.

Located down the mountain from SSO, the Mopra Telescope operates at millimetre wavelengths to investigate molecules within star forming regions.

Aerial footage of the Mopra Telescope and a brief first site visit from an SSO staff member on Monday indicated that there was significant fire damage to the onsite control building. This building contained an accommodation area, a control room and an equipment room. From the aerial photo it was clear that the accommodation area was burnt to the ground and yet the concrete roof above the control and equipment rooms appeared relatively intact.

Late yesterday afternoon two CASS staff with an RFS Inspector were able to visit the site and give a brief visual report on the inside of the equipment room. There is smoke damage but the equipment is currently intact with no obvious heat or fire damage. This is very good news. Before the equipment can be tested to see if it is still operational, the structural safety of the building must be assessed and the equipment must be made physically safe.

Amander Bauer, an astronomer at the AAO, continues to do a great job of posting the latest news on her blog.

And you can find some images of SSO during the fire at my post on the Museum Victoria blog.

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