Observations

Accessing the sky: the building of Sydney Observatory’s new dome – post 1

Architectural drawing of Astrograph Dome
Architectural drawing by NSW Government Architects.

A visionary project to build a third telescope dome at the Museum’s Sydney Observatory has received funding from the NSW Department of Family and Community Services. Ageing, Disability and Home Care and the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences (MAAS), to provide access for all to astronomical telescopes to view the stars and planets. This is the first in a series of blogs to keep you updated on progress.

This project brings back to Sydney Observatory an historic metal dome and a spectacular astrographic telescope (star camera) removed from the site in 1986. The telescope has been completely restored in the Museum’s conservation workshop and the dome is being restored by the NSW Government Architect’s Office, who have designed the building. The image above shows the architectural concept for the building which is now under construction on the eastern side of the entry to Sydney Observatory. This is the same location where the first and second astrographic buildings stood.

Steelwork is in place for the concrete slab to be poured
Steelwork is in place for the concrete slab to be poured. Photo G.Wyatt 18 Sept 2014.

The new building will be constructed of metal and glass and includes a lift right up into the dome and to the new telescope. The project is being managed by the Museum’s Facilities team and consultant, Pure Projects. The successful tenderer, Zadro Constructions Pty Ltd, commenced a detailed site survey in mid August. Despite record rainfalls over the past few weeks, they are running close to schedule. The image above shows the layout of the steelwork and you can see the circular shape of the domed section taking shape. Part of the concrete slab has already been poured which you can see front right of the above image.

Fitting the restored dome to the new building and ensuring it is operational is a very important aspect of the project and the image below shows the project team inspecting and measuring the dome. The Museum has purchased a very special telescope, with an articulated eyepiece able to easily adjust to different heights for easy viewing of the night sky for people in wheelchairs.  This is a major enhancement of access to the Sydney Observatory site, and will provide a first-class experience for all. Much consultation has gone into the selection of the telescope and how it will operate with the mechanisation of the old dome.

Measuring the dome which is currently being restored
Measuring the dome which is currently being restored. Photo T. Stevenson 17 Sept 2014.

Another exciting aspect of the project is that the new building will house an exhibition, developed by MAAS, titled ‘Accessing the Sky’ which will highlight Sydney Observatory’s participation in the 1887 Carte du Ciel (Chart of the Sky) and Astrographic Catalogue projects to photograph and chart the entire celestial globe. This was one of the most important projects of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and one of the very first international partnership scientific projects. It will feature a spectacular historic Astrographic telescope. This telescope was made by the Irish firm Howard Grubb, an important instrument maker and you can read about its history and restoration in a previous blog. This telescope was first used to photograph the Melbourne Zone of the Astrographic Catalogue before Melbourne Observatory closed and, under Harley Wood’s instruction, the telescope was relocated to Sydney in 1948. The exhibition also tells the story of the first women to be employed in astronomy in NSW through the display of a star measuring machine used from 1916 by Ida Digby and Irene Maud McDonnell.

 

Susan McMunn, MAAS Facilities team, and Carmine Strangis, Zadro Constructions, measure the dome
Susan McMunn, MAAS Facilities team, and Carmine Strangis, Zadro Constructions, measure the dome.

 

Andrew Jacob, MAAS Curator, and Geoff Wyatt, MAAS Educator checking out the shutter.
Andrew Jacob, MAAS Curator, and Geoff Wyatt, MAAS Educator checking out the shutter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This project has been part of the Museum’s master plan for Sydney Observatory since 2006. It is in keeping with the Conservation Plan (Kerr 2002) and  has NSW Heritage Department, as well as Council approval.  It is very exciting to watch the vision for this project become a reality.

The new building with its dome and telescope are on track for practical completion in December 2014.

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