Accessing the Sky: building Sydney Observatory’s new accessible dome – post 5

This is the fifth blog in a series which documents building a new dome for Sydney Observatory which is especially designed for people with disabilities and their carers. This project is important to our visitors. Every day and night Sydney Observatory staff  explain to people visiting who cannot make it up the 39 steps to the North and South domes that a new future awaits thanks to funding from the NSW Department of Ageing Disability and Home Care. Over the past two weeks this future progressed and an important delivery was successfully made. Building works are still on schedule for completion by Christmas.  The installation and commissioning of the new accessible DFM telescope with the revolutionary Articulated Relay Eyepiece was locked in and the exhibition will be installed leading up to a grand opening late January 2015.

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. In post 3 I explained Andrew James’s role advising on accessibility and his deep engagement with the research outcomes from the Astrographic Catalogue and the instruments which will feature in the display inside the new building. In post 4 I confirmed the name ‘East Dome’  and that the concrete pour had been successful and bricks and block-work walls were progressing.

Astrographic telescope
John Winter, project Manager Zadro Constructions, and Danny grant MAAS facilities Manager , inspect the dome brickwork and ring beam.

This past week the brick and block walls have reached their final heights. The circular brickwork, which forms the base of the dome, was impeccably laid by the builders, Zadro Constructions.  The steelwork ring beam was installed and inspected by the engineer. This is very important because it has to support the copper dome which will be delivered soon.  We can now get a feel for inside the dome, where the lift and stairs will be located. It was good to get a sense of how much area we will have inside the dome for the telescope, the astronomer and the public, some of whom will be in wheelchairs. Look carefully at the photograph above and you can see a rectangular shape on the floor of the dome. This is a separated piece of concrete on which the telescope pier will sit, isolated from any floor vibration. Astronomy curator, Dr Andrew Jacob, has been involved in the project and checking the construction to ensure it will suit our purposes as a public observatory.


Render is applied to the block-work interior wall.

The concrete block-work wall, which delineates the dome from the foyer and exhibition  building, was completed and the electrical wires for power and lighting were roughed in. We were all impressed by the rendered finish of this wall once it was complete and the cement had cured to an even finish.

Friday morning my excitement was hard to contain as we waited for the delivery of the mount for the 13″ refracting astrographic telescope. This telescope and its mount was made by Howard Grubb and Sons in Dublin, Ireland. It was one of eight telescopes made for the international Carte du Ciel ( chart of the sky) and Astrographic Catalogue (star catalogue) projects. It was originally delivered to Melbourne Observatory on 29 December, 1890.  The telescope was purchased by Sydney Observatory in the late 1940s when Melbourne Observatory closed. In 1952 the Astrograph was installed in a new building constructed by the Government Architects branch to the specifications of NSW Government Astronomer, Harley Wood. The telescope was then used to complete the photography of the Sydney zone for the Astrographic Catalogue and take a few replacement photographs for the Melbourne zone. The telescope was operated regularly to complete the Astrographic Catalogue , it was then used to photograph the Southern Sydney Star Catalogue and, when Sydney Observatory ceased astronomical research, amateur astronomers used it to photograph comets and other celestial objects. In 1986 the telescope was transported to Macquarie University and stored until 2008. Over the past 12 months the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences(MAAS) Conservators, Tim Morris and Carey Ward, with the assistance of expert volunteers,  have restored the telescope.

Astrographic telescope
Carey Ward, Toner Stevenson, Geoff Wyatt are very happy to see the return of the Grubb Astrographic Telescope.

The mount was delivered on a flat bed truck and then craned into place very very carefully. Carey, who was an instrument maker at Sydney Observatory from 1980 to 1982, worked with MAAS carpenter, Barry, and MAAS steam engine mechanic, Ralph, to transport the instrument mount and then safely install it. Once installed it was wrapped and then boxed so it will be protected during the completion of building works. The operation took considerable planning by the project management team Danny Grant, Sue McMunn and Adam Adair, and was successfully and safely completed. You can see from the photographs that there are no telescope tubes installed yet. These are still back at the museum workshop. The telescope tubes will be installed before the glass walls are completed because these are also of considerable weight and difficult to manouevre. Once the building work is complete, then the lenses and photographic apparatus will be attached. This will complete the telescope for display.

The Astrograph mount is carefully manoeuvred into place by Carey, Ralph and Barry.

The next step is to get the roof on and more of the walls up and, if progress is made as planned, in the next blog I will be writing about the delivery and installation of the historic dome.






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