Visited the Observatory on 2 occassions this week. Sydney Observatory is a magical and spiritual place where you are transported in time to the days of the first settlers. Observatory Hill is next to Millers Point overlooking parkland and Sydney Harbour with old trees and a gazebo to get the best panoramic views. In 1796, early on during the European settlement of New South Wales, Australia, a windmill was built on the hill above the first settlement. Within ten years the windmill had deteriorated to the point of being useless; the canvas sails were stolen, a storm damaged the machinery, and already by 1800 the foundations were giving way. The name of Millers Point remembers this early land use.
The observatory was built Sydney Observatory was built between 1857 and 1859 as a centre of scientific research an official time keeper for the colony (then being New South Wales), designed to calculate the correct time from the movement of the stars.
It is 2 minutes from the Rocks district: with handsome stone buildings, cobbled laneways, trendy cafes and a variety of pubs, including Sydney’s oldest pub “Fortune of War”, where you can indulge in a traditional Jazz on Sudney afternoons (3pm to 6pm).
Although from the federation of Australia in 1901, meteorology became a function for the Commonwealth Government, the observatory continued its astronomical role. The observatory continued to contribute observations to The astrographic catalogue, kept time and provided information to the public. For example, each day the Observatory supplied Sydney newspapers with the rising and setting times of the sun, moon and planets.
The time ball (first black, then yellow and now white) on the tower’s poll signalled the time to ships and to the post office in Martin Place to correct the time. The time ball is still raised to the top of its post and dropped at exactly 1pm every day. Originally, there was also a cannon blast fired to accompany the dropping of the time ball to provide a sound as well as a visual notification that it was 1pm. This no longer happens. The best way to see the ball drop is to be around the south dome part of the observatory at 12:54pm and see the ball raised at 12:55 following the drop at 1pm.
Another important functions was to provided a time-ball time service to ships in the Harbourand research as a meteorological observing station. Among the astronomical work were observations of the transit of Venus in 1874 and participation in the Carte du Ciel project. It ceased to be a working observatory in 1983 and is now a branch of the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences (Powerhouse Museum). Nevertheless, the Telescopes are fully operational. The beautiful telescope in the south dome was installed to observe the 1874 Transit of Venus. It is the oldest working telescope in Australia and is of immense historic importance. It has a large lens of 29cm diameter at the far end of the tube.
The staff astronomers call their “dear Old Lady” is the H9886 Telescope, 11.4 inch equatorial refracting telescope, brass / glass, made by Hugo Schroeder, Hamburg, Germany 1874.
It is a rare and precious collectable item of significant heritage value, rated globally as A1A, similarly to the statue of David by Michelangelo (1504) or Mona Lisa (also known as La Gioconda) by Leonardo da Vinci or the Biblia Sacra by Guttenberg.
In 1874, after two years of inquiries, the New South Wales Government Astronomer H. C. Russell acquired a number of new instruments in preparation for the upcoming Transit of Venus. One of these was a new 11.4 inch telescope purchased for the observation of double stars from the optician and instrument maker, Hugo Schroeder.
Russell was impressed by a Schroeder telescope owned by Alfred Fairfax, a Sydney jeweler and amateur astronomer and this may have been one of the reasons he ordered the new telescope from Schroeder. A 4.5-inch Schroeder telescope owned by Fairfax was used at Woodford during the observation of the Transit of Venus in 1874. (Source: Haynes, Raymond, Haynes, Roslynn, Malin, David, McGee, Richard, Explorers of the Southern Sky, Cambridge University Press, 1996)
As well as the telescope Russell purchased some additional instruments from Schroeder. These were a solar polarising eyepiece (H10380) designed for viewing the sun, a filar micrometer mounted on a graduated circuit (H10007) and some eyepieces (H10294). A sun diagonal (H10295) used in conjunction with the Schroeder telescope was purchased separately.
The telescope was specially made to fit into Sydney Observatory's South Dome. The original dome built in 1858 was taken down and a larger dome built to fit the telescope. The telescope had a clear aperture of 11.4-inches and a focal length 12 feet 6 inches and Russell commented that while this shortened focal length was a disadvantage to definition it was an advantage to its light catching power.
The telescope was adapted for taking photographs of the Transit of Venus in December of 1874. The setup of the lenses was also modified by Russell who, once this was completed, felt that the definition of the telescope was superb especially when using the achromatic eyepieces supplied by Dr. Schroeder. For the Transit of Venus it was fitted with a camera and enlarging lens that magnified the suns image to four inches. The wet collodion photographic plates were placed at the end of the camera and held in place by a spring. The camera end passed into a dark room tent raised inside the dome and connected to the telescope by a flexible sleeve. A shutter was used to take the picture which was developed on the spot and another inserted immediately. Three persons working in this fashion managed to take one photo per minute.
The rare experience of seeing the Moon craters, Saturn without its famous rings and the nearest stars Alpha and Beta Centauri, the constellations Scorpius and the Jewel Box (also known as NGC 4755 or Kappa Crucis Cluster) is at night. The Jewel box is an open cluster in the constellation of Crux. Crux is located between the constellations Centaurus and Musca. It is easy to locate simply by looking for four bright stars all less than five degrees apart. Five degrees is about the width of your three middle fingers held at arm's length. Crux is the smallest of all 88 constellations.
It is one of the finest open clusters discovered by Nicolas Louis de Lacaille when he was in South Africa during 1751–1752. This cluster is one of the youngest known, with an estimated age of only 7.1 million years, about 7,500 light years from Earth and contains around 100 stars.
The night tour that starts at 8:15pm. I suggest to arrive earlier, say 8pm and definitely to make a reservation, as the place is so popular that gets booked out many days in advance, on (02) 9241 3767 or 9921 3485, as the first number is often engaged.
The 3-D technology theatre at the end of the tour (last 20 minutes before a 5 minute tour outside looking at the sky and identifying stars) developed in Australia by the Centre for Astrophysics and Supercomputing at the Swinburne Institute in Melbourne presents an exploration of Venus, Mars Exploration Rovers and Cassini at Saturn, and last week showing Europa.
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