Accessing the sky: building Sydney Observatory’s new dome – post 3

In post 1 and post 2 of this series I provided information about why Sydney Observatory is building a new dome, where the dome came from and how the building program is progressing. I have already introduced you to some of the people involved in the project and our major supporters of the project, NSW Department of Aging, Disability and Home Care and the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences.

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

Over the past week progress has been made in completing the concrete pour so the external ramp and patio are now in place and the blockwork walls are just starting to rise. The other big step forward is the appointment of our publicist and a big effort by Andrew Jacob on the curatorial work, drafting labels and liaising with the designer.   Dr Andrew Jacob took over a large proportion of the astronomy, horology, meteorology and surveying curatorial roles for the Museum after Dr Nick Lomb, a well-known astronomer, retired in 2009. Andrew is curating the interpretation of the new dome and advising , with Education Manager, Geoff Wyatt, on the telescope.

The ramp and patio concrete slabs
The ramp and ‘patio’ slab were poured.

Selecting the best telescope was a major piece of work. Geoff prepared comparisons between many available instruments which would give the best viewing in a city environment and did preliminary budgets for six options. Andrew James, amateur astronomer and astronomy history expert, advised on the selection, and its placement in the dome from the viewpoint of a wheelchair-user. The final decision was to purchase a telescope from a company in Colorado called DFM Engineering which has a purpose-built attachment, called an Articulated Relay Eyepiece.   This extended eyepiece enables a person in a wheelchair to use the telescope by moving the eyepiece closer to them, as demonstrated in the image below, rather than trying to get the person in the wheelchair into a viewing position. It is unique to DFM Engineering.

The Articulated Relay Eyepiece attached to the DFM telescope
The Articulated Relay Eyepiece attached to the DFM telescope. Image courtesy DFM.

This week Andrew James came in to see the building progress, discuss some ideas he has for exhibition content and talk in more detail about the finishes and finer points of design. He was very pleased to see we had installed two ‘windows’ into the building site – one at a high and one at a low level- so everyone can see progress on the building. This will enable viewing into the building ‘showcase’ so the 1890 Astrographic Telescope. Andrew Jacob discussed the exhibition design by Claudia Brueheim which enables wheelchair users to get close to the objects and read the labels at a convenient height.

Astronomer Andrew James
Andrew James, skilled amateur astronomer, inspects progress on the new dome.
Jewel Box Cluster
The Jewel Box Cluster. Image and copyright M.Bessell, CSIRO.

Then we all enjoyed safe solar viewing with the portable H-Alpha telescope of interesting sunspot groups and a large prominence. Whilst Sydney Observatory has provided an outdoor telescope service for many years for persons with disabilities there is nothing like a dome experience. We discussed the interesting research around the Jewel Box open cluster of stars and double stars which Andrew James has been investigating, and how this beautiful and interesting group of stars was photographed using an Astrographic Telescope in the 1890s, and was still the subject of detailed research in the 1980s. Andrew James is looking forward to bringing in a group from the Muscular Dystrophy Association to experience the new telescope so he can share his enthusiasm and knowledge of astronomy in the dome.

Andrew Jacob, Andrew James and Andrew Smith
(L to R) The ‘A’ team: Andrew Jacob, Andrew James and Andrew Smith discuss telescopes, wheelchairs and solar observations

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