Emjay goes looking at stars…


or she might if the weather was better!        We are now at Siding Spring Observatory outside Coonabarabran (NSW).    The observatory is  1,165 metres (3,822 ft) above sea level on Mount Woorat which is also more commonly known as Siding Spring Mountain.    There are 12 telescopes on the site and the mountain overlooks the Warrumbungle National Park.


The mountain is in deep cloud tonight and the 3.9 metre Anglo-Australian Telescope, which the manservant uses when he is in his guise as astro-dweeb, will not be opening.  The telescope was commissioned in 1974  and was one of the last large telescopes built with an equatorial mount while it was one of the first telescopes to be fully computer-controlled.  The light was really fading when I took this shot – but you get an idea of the size of the telescope compared to the house – which is a good sized house not a little row house!

This is the SkyMapper 1.3 metre telescope.   Its mission is to robotically create the first comprehensive digital survey of the entire southern sky:


And this was the SkyMapper in the distance at sunset:

Also on the mountain is the ANU/Mt. Stromlo 2.3 metre telescope.  This is Mt. Stromlo’s main research telescope even though it is not actually on Mt. Stromlo! 

Then we have the UK Schmidt 1.24 m telescope which is operated by the AAO.   Schmidt telescopes have a very large field of view allowing them to see much more of the sky in a single shot than a normal telescope.  Popular Australian astronomer, Fred Watson,  is one of the observers using this telescope for the 6DF program

And, the Faulkes South 2 metre Telescope.  This is owned by the Google billionaire and operated by his Las Cumbres Observatory in Santa Barbara.  The Faulkes Project provides access to the Faulkes Telescopes (North in Hawaii and South here on Siding Spring) for schools and groups involved in education.  This opens from the centre outwards:

Also on the mountain are hundreds of kangaroos!   See the joey leaning out of the pouch for dinner:  (you might have to click the photo to make it bigger if your eyes are like mine!)They are curious creatures:

Dryland ….


For the few days I was here before the manservant I had a cute little Getz rental car but after a 3 hr trip north to see my parents I decided we needed something bigger for our road trip west.   I like to feel a bit more metal around me and more power under the bonnet.  

So back to Budget we went where we were given a brand new shiny white Toyota Camry with only 6km on it – which it probably got driving from manufacturer to truck and then off and into it's parking spot.    

In a week we have put 2,063 kms on it  (10 km = approx. 6 miles)  and made it very dirty.  I drive faster than the manservant and, as I sailed blithely past a speed camera yesterday, I commented to him that as the car was in his name he was probably going to be receiving a lot of speeding tickets in the mail.  At least there won't be any from school zones -  I am always very careful to stick to the 40kph outside schools – of course this is helped by the huge array of warnings and flashing lights and "check speed" neons around schools.   Speed cameras are cunningly hidden around bends and at hill bottoms and just at the exact spot where I have to speed to get past someone driving "weirdly".  Yes, I know there are signs posted saying speed cameras are used in NSW, just before the camera, but sometimes they are not very obvious.  

I've also found that everywhere I seem to want to drive requires an E-Tag –  and rental cars don't come with E-Tags.  Last year I drove through the Cross City Tunnel a couple of times and forgot to call and tell them and what I surprise I got a few weeks later when I received a big invoice all the way in DC.   
We drove through some very dry country heading from Coonabarabran back to the north coast…   

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What’s for dinner?


Saturday night and I can't decide what to have for dinner…  

Both of these places are in Coonabarabran – Australia.  I have had coffee and a chiko roll from the Eat It place.  I believe the manservant has frequented the Tucker Time many times on his trips out there – it's the novelty! 

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Out of words …

and nearly out of power.    Full work days sap these old batteries!
I took these photos out in country Australia – near Coonabarabran.   It is the same power line running out of town towards the telescope -  different poles, different angles, different time of day:

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Travelling a virtual solar system

I have travelled through the solar system – virtually!

The AAT Dome at Siding Spring Observatory represents the sun in what is advertised as the "World's Largest virtual Solar System Drive".

Pluto (yes, it is still included) is nearly 200kms (120 miles) away, on 5 different "solar" routes to Coonabarabran, in a virtual solar system which is 38 million times smaller than outer space. (Pluto exists in Dubbo, Gulgong, Merriwa, Tamworth & Moree even though the General Assembly of the International Astronomical Union reclassified it in 2006)


Three dimensional planet models, with factoids, are attached to billboard signs beside the road. The sun is over 1.39 million kilometres wide but, if it were the size of the 37 metre AAT Dome, Pluto would be nearly 200 kms away and be the size of a billiard ball.

So …  if you are travelling in your car at 100km/hr (60mph) you would be "virtually" hurtling through space at a million kilometres per second. (or 621,371 miles per second).

Some of these country roads can be a bit tedious to travel along but this adds something to watch for – though to be honest I missed a few planets  – but then I was travelling faster than those 100km/hr – more than 3 times faster than the speed of light!  

Back to Sydney for me!

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Seeing Stars

I looked through a telescope!

Now you might wonder how I could be married to an astronomer for 8 years and never have looked through a telescope – well the telescopes he uses do not have eye-pieces and the observing is done by computer.

But…   when we first started going out he gave a talk at the Sydney Observatory and aferwards we were given a private tour of the observatory and telescope. It was late afternoon and the telescope was pointed at Saturn especially for us. 

When it was my turn I walked forward and promptly poked  the view finder directly into my eye!!  I certainly saw stars!!  

I was so mortified that I stood there staring into the telescope even though I could see nothing but tears and my eye and brow bone were aching in pain. I uttered something along the lines of "oh, that's amazing" … and stepped back keeping my head down.

As we were walking down the stairs the astro-dweeb whispered into my ear "how's your eye?"  He later told me that he could hear the crack of my bone hitting the viewfinder!  How embarrassing!!  

I got a decent black eye from the incident and a lot of laughs when I explained how I got it!  

So anyway ….  on the side of the road not far outside Coonabarabran is the Skywatch Observatory with a 12 inch telescope and it seemed time that I attempt star gazing again.

The astro-dweeb went off to socialize with the owner & chef of the Star Thai Restaurant (on site at Skywatch) while I joined a group of 13 others (mostly Swedish).

First we gazed at the night sky oohing and aahing at the Southern Cross (which you can't see in the Northern Hemisphere) and the Milky Way.  It was an incredibly clear night.

Then we headed into the dome and looked through the telescope at Mars followed by the stars Sirius and Betelgeuse (pronounced like Beetlejuice); then the Orion Nebula (beautiful) and Alpha Centauri.

They saved the best till last – Saturn and then the Moon!  It was spectacular!  And I managed to do it all without hurting myself!

Out near the Siding Spring Observatory we saw a group of kangaroos by the side of the road.  I got out of the car and approached them to take photos  – I was surprised that they were not more scared of me.  There are actually about 12 'roos in this group:

Eventually they got sick of me ……. once this "leader"  headed off they all did.

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