NSW - Your own star observatory for the weekend

Submitted: Thursday, May 25, 2006 at 16:07
ThreadID: 34254 Views:2447 Replies:2 FollowUps:1
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If you're in NSW or coming here - this could be just for you. I'm looking into booking it for a weekend!
How good is this? I'm looking into booking it for a weekend soon.... :)


Family breaks

Sky's the limit

By Jan Forrester

May 20, 2006

JAN Forrester enjoys a Lost in Space experience at a hands-on observatory in the New South Wales southern tablelands.
Magellan Observatory

Spot of wonder .... the Magellan Observatory against a cosmic backdrop

IF your idea of space has been shaped by Star Wars movies, your senses zapped by explosive intergalactic warfare, perhaps it's time to discover real space.

Gazing into the skies through a telescope gives an amazing view of the sprawling galaxies that lie beyond our solar system. It is also a reconnection with wonder.

I plan a two-night tour of the skies at Magellan Observatory near Goulburn and Braidwood in the New South Wales southern tablelands. Away from city lights and well elevated, Magellan is a private observatory, with two domes housing intricate telescopic and digital camera equipment, where visitors can look at the heavens and stay just five minutes down the hill, in a house that comfortably accommodates six, with three bedrooms, kitchen, lounge and dining rooms.

Unlike many of the famous observatories in eastern Australia, here you can actually get your hands on the telescopes and gaze for as long as your eyes (and the skies) allow.

Everything is subject to the weather, though. Defeated by a clouded sky on the first night, my host, telescope junkie Zane Hammond, and I retreat to the astro-shed and open a bottle of red.

A space novice, I ask amateur astronomer Hammond about our intergalactic neighbours.

"Alpha Centauri is the closest visible star, four light years away from our sun. That's where the Robinson family was heading in the (1960s) television show Lost in Space."

This star also gets a mention at the beginning of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. In Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri, a popular 1999 computer strategy game, humans try to colonise a planet in Alpha Centauri after Earth is destroyed. So it's been in our consciousness as a travel destination – and a last resort.

I'm wondering what I will resort to if the skies don't clear tomorrow night. But the star gods are with us, and the skies unzip. This mightn't last long: we down wine glasses and race outside to the big dome.

Hammond glances at the sky, exhaling phrases such as "Aha, Orion ... maybe Eta Carina..." He pushes the dome around on its circular track so the roll-off roof opening points towards the target, then jumps inside to aim and focus the 45cm telescope. He has refined this procedure to a few movements, after which I adjust my eye in the telescope's viewfinder and gaze out of this world.

The visible sky is alight. Stars rush at me, and I'm sure I can almost touch them: the brightest is Sirius. We focus on the planet Saturn hanging like a luminous amulet on a black velvet curtain. All other heavenly bodies seem to dim momentarily. A complex beauty, Saturn's poles are flattened by the speed of its rotation. I see one ring around Saturn but in fact hundreds are circling.

During the next cloud break, Hammond trains the telescope on the familiar Southern Cross and its two pointers, Alpha Centauri and Beta Centauri. Aboriginal people in eastern Australia have handed down stories about the Southern Cross and the pointer stars. In one, the 'father of all', Biame, created a gum tree named Yaraando, the Dreaming Tree of Life and Death. The stars of the Southern Cross are the fiery eyes of a man imprisoned in the tree and the pointer stars are two white cockatoos that tried to follow as the tree was lifted to its place in the heavens.

Back on Earth we can see another break in the clouds and Hammond scans the heavens for the night's grand finale, the Eta Carina Nebula. Nebulae are clouds of gas in space. After a cosmic tantrum 150 years ago, the big, bright and unstable Eta Carina star expelled large amounts of gas, creating a giant nebula with two blobs and a disc in the middle. The nebula is still expanding as it throws out gas and dust; we are watching the changing art work of the night sky.

It's a thought that carries me back down the hill, following a frail torchlight beam, to the house, where I sleep dreamlessly until the birds wake me next morning.


Activity See: Magellan Observatory can be visited by appointment. In winter, gas heaters and blankets are supplied. BYO catering supplies: the kitchen has a gas stove and oven, microwave and fridge. There is a television, video (watch The Dish, of course) and music system. Minimum two-day stay for two people is $170. Accommodation for each additional person on the first night is $15. Extra night's accommodation, regardless of numbers, $85. The Sky Tour on NGT18 telescope, which takes 1 1/2-2 hours: $10, adults; $7.50, children. Telescopes, including solar telescope and Nikon or CCD camera and photo rig, can be hired.

More More: (02) 4849 4489; home.goulburn.net.au/~magellan
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Reply By: Willem - Thursday, May 25, 2006 at 17:08

Thursday, May 25, 2006 at 17:08
I have the Starry Night program on my lappy and fire it up every so often out in the bush to look at the stars about.

Thanks for the info. Mebbe when we ever get over there again we should have a look.

AnswerID: 174720

Follow Up By: Member - Omaroo (NSW) - Thursday, May 25, 2006 at 17:59

Thursday, May 25, 2006 at 17:59
Just been looking at that package Willem. Looks nice!

I'd like to put a similar observatory up at Omaroo one day. It's at 900 metres at the top of the hill and is usually pitch black at night. Gets a tad chilly in winter though....
FollowupID: 430763

Reply By: Member - Omaroo (NSW) - Sunday, May 28, 2006 at 11:55

Sunday, May 28, 2006 at 11:55
I spoke to them a couple of days ago now and booked for a weekend in August. Nice people. Can't wait.......................... :)
AnswerID: 175160

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