Saturday , May 15 2021

High above the bright lights of a great city, the old observatory finds a new audience



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"Up here, far away from city lighting, the Milky Way is so bright that it can throw a shadow," says Perry Vlahos, inaugural president and president of the Astronomical Society Victoria.

"If you start one hand over another, you can see the shadow that he throws."

Inside the larger dome, the huge 18-inch reflective telescope points to the sky.

The telescope is old, but the basic telescoping design has changed little since Isaac Newton's day, and seeing it through a clear day, says Mr. Vlahos, you can discern Saturn's rings.

But it could have been so different. The observatory and telescope were almost lost forever.

The Observatory was built by Monash University at the beginning of the 70s – a time of "big hair, great flair, big ideas, and great spending money," says Mr. Vlahos. His elevated, distant location and distance from city lights made him the perfect place to observe the night sky.

Perry Vlahos with an 18-inch Optical Telescope.

Perry Vlahos with an 18-inch Optical Telescope.Credit:Simon Schluter

A large telescope was set up, and a wooden hut was built as a primitive accommodation. The hut is still standing, making a comfortable place in the cold night drinking cocoa and waiting for the clouds to clear. At its peak, the telescope has given important observations on the evolution of several stars in the southern sky.

But Mount Burnett did not stay dark and insulated for a long time. Melbourne grew rapidly, the city limits barely chewed the farmland and left behind new farms.

Soon the light pollution began to disturb the telescope, and the newer, higher observatory was established around the country. Mount Burnett did not use it.

Burnett Mountain Observatory, shown in the archive of Monash University.

Burnett Mountain Observatory, shown in the archive of Monash University.

Until 2010, and nobody used it for years, Monash decided not to have that page anymore. The big telescope seemed predestined to finish in the yard of the shipwreck.

Enter Mr. Vlahos and a small group of members from the Astronomical Society of Victoria.

"I did not doubt he must be saved," says Mr Vlahos.

"There are not enough observations of this nature around Victoria. There was no dismissal of this."

After many negotiations, they succeeded in persuading the University to hand over the Observatory, provided that it took over land lease.

Mt Burnett at night.

Mt Burnett at night.Credit:Perry Vlahos

After they got into work, the team finally managed to get the locks out of the door and see what was left of it. After years of unused use, the observatory was not in good shape. The color began to fall from the dome, and the parrots covered everything.

"It took almost everything," says Mr Vlahos.

– The observatory itself had to be painted. All the spiders and trash were cleaned from the inside. The dome was to be reconstructed and prefabricated. we had to work on telescopes – the mirrors were supposed to be restored, re-aluminated, all these things had to be restored. "

It was a job of love for Mr. Vlahos and a small team of volunteers. After several years of grain and elbow fat, the observatory is now in place.

The dome rotates, smoothly rotates on well-lubricated forty-year gears, the slit opening of the observatory, and the stars in the sky above you.

"Looking at the fascination on the children's faces when they look through the telescope in the incredible universe that is above our heads, it's a good reason for these telescopes to start working," says Mr. Vlahos.

Observatory once a week conducts public viewing, depending on weather conditions. More details can be found at mtburnettobservatory.org.

Liam is a journalist at Fairfax Media

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