Siding Spring after the fires of January 2013

The burnt-out Lodge, the astronomers quarters, at Siding Spring observatory on Jan 14, 2013. The telescopes appear to have survived. Courtesy NSW Rural Fire Service.

Ten years ago, on January 18 2003, Mt Stromlo observtory was devestated by a bushfire. Now, almost exactly ten years later, in some peverse cosmic cycle the other major optical observatory in Australia has been partially burnt out by another bushfire.

Although the damage this time has been less severe, partially due to the lessons learnt and implemented after the Stromlo fires, the astronomers accomodation (the ‘Lodge’) and some other structures have been destroyed. All the telescopes appear to be intact at present (morning of January 14, 2013).

The Lodge was probably the building most vulnerable to this particular fire, sitting on the edge of the escarpment overlooking the beautiful Warrumbungles National Park – there are not many major observatories in such a beautiful setting. Many astronomers will have special memories of finishing a hearty dinner there before taking a stroll amongst the grass-trees and kangaroos. I recall returning from long winter nights of observing, walking through the freezing mountain fog, shuttering the windows againt the morning sun and collapsing into sleep on my cosy Lodge bed.

AAO astronomer Amanda Bauer has been keeping an informative blog going and the Rural Fire Service has more photos available.

With thanks to the NSW RFS for all their work.


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