Australia’s Siding Spring Observatory Fire Threat
Yesterday bushfires swept through the warrumbungle national park, which grows around the Siding Spring Observatory. The observatory was officially evacuated by authorities.
This is the latest update news via News.Com as of 10.30am 14 January: “The fire is burning in a northerly direction away from Timor Road and the Siding Spring Observatory and is currently approximately 1km south of Bugaldie.” More than 65 firefighters and 17 trucks were on site in the early hours, with more expected to arrive throughout Monday. The Australian National University, which owns the site, said five buildings had either been “severely affected or damaged”, including the lodge used to accommodate visiting researchers and a number of cottages and sheds.
“A fire has been extinguished at the visitors centre this morning,” ANU said in a statement on Monday. “We expect the visitors centre has been severely damaged.” It said no telescopes appear to have sustained major damage, but the impact on the site’s instruments will not be known until later on Monday. Power will be shut down temporarily as connections are checked.
Additional ANU staff are also travelling to the observatory from Canberra on Monday to assist with damage assessment, clean-up, and to help get services up and running. Ms Ryan said aerial photographs taken of the Siding Spring Observatory at first light on Monday showed the main telescope had survived; however, it was not yet known if it had been damaged.
The pictures show the charred remains of bush surrounding the observatory and one of the buildings on the site had been destroyed. Eighteen staff from the observatory were evacuated on Sunday to nearby Coonabarabran. Source: News.Co.Au
Late update:Dr Alister Graham from Swinburne University reports: Sadly the Mopra radio telescope control centre and accommodation have been destroyed, although at least the dish itself is still standing and may be undamaged.
The NSW rural fire service moved in sometime around 4pm Yesterday. All SSO staff evacuated the observatory to Coonabarabran safely, and then we were left to watch images on the all-sky webcams. Dark smoke clouds cover the view.
Bush fires tore through the mt stromlo observatory near canberra, exactly 10 years ago this week. I remember the event in detail as it happened when I was a graduate student. As a result of those fires, many measures were taken to protect telescopes at SSO. Tomorrow we will see how well those protections held.
As of 19:40, we know that some damage has occurred at the observatory, but the webcams are still functional. I remain hopeful.
UPDATE (20:00, Sydney local time, 13 Jan 2013): Astronomers cannot communicate with the SkyMapper telescope remotely, but the 2.3m telescope is still talking to computers and working. Fire service has confirmed there is damage at the observatory, and two nearby properties have been destroyed.
UPDATE (20:20): the MOPRA radio telescope that lives in the valley close to siding spring is offline. no communication. But astronomers are hopeful that the telescope is OK, as the wind was pushing the fire elsewhere when they lost contact. The recently constructed iTelescope facility has power and communication to site on siding spring.
UPDATE (20:40): the sun has set at siding spring. a friend in nearby Coonabarabran says small flames are visible through her camera on the hills below and around the observatory. Winds are blowing north, away from siding spring, thankfully.
UPDATE (22:01): It appears now, according to the LCOGT cameras, that some buildings are close to, or on fire now. These could include houses where staff members live, the lodge where astronomers stay (note: no one is on the mountain at this time), and the kitchen and dining room where astronomers eat while observing.
UPDATE (23:00): the NSW rural fire services just posted an emergency statement on their website. The fire is still strong, but moving away from Coonabarabran (where are the SSO astronomers and staff are currently) and away from siding spring. conditions are still too dangerous at site for anyone to go and assess the current damage.
UPDATE (23:15): Good news! Astronomers are able to get readings from the 2.3 meter telescope on siding spring. The interior temperature is OK (20 C).
Images Showing The Early Extent Of The Fire
UPDATE (23:00): the NSW rural fire services just posted an emergency statement on their website. the fire is still strong, but moving away from Coonabarabran (where are the SSO astronomers and staff are currently) and away from siding spring. conditions are still too dangerous at site for anyone to go and assess the current damage. it will have to wait until tomorrow.
UPDATE (23:15): good news! astronomers are able to get readings from the 2.3 meter telescope on siding spring. the interior temperature is OK (20 C).