Sydney Observatory – Past and Present

February 27, 2016

Brenan Dew is an astronomy guide at Sydney Observatory and is currently working on his PhD at Macquarie University. Below he discusses the history of Sydney Observatory.

Little has changed on Observatory Hill since Sydney Observatory first opened its doors 158 years ago, back in 1858. For most of its history, the western part of this sandstone building functioned as a research observatory, while the eastern rooms served as the residence of the government astronomer and his immediate family. Research was not strictly limited to astronomy, as the building, its facilities and its grounds were also utilised for making meteorological and timekeeping measurements. By the mid 1900’s, the city of Sydney, which was growing around the Observatory, started to pose a problem due to the increase in light pollution. After the major astronomical projects, such as the Astrographic Catalogue, came to completion, Sydney Observatory closed its doors as a place of astronomical research and transformed into the educational hub that it is today, where it forms a part of the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences.

Sydney Observatory in 1860. Image courtesy of the collection of the State Library of NSW.
Sydney Observatory in 1860.
Image courtesy of the collection of the State Library of NSW.
Sydney Observatory in 1874. Image courtesy of the collection of the State Library of NSW.
Sydney Observatory in 1874.
Image courtesy of the collection of the State Library of NSW.
Sydney Observatory taken between 1900-1910. Image courtesy of the collection of the State Library of NSW.
Sydney Observatory taken between 1900-1910.
Image courtesy of the collection of the State Library of NSW.

Sydney Observatory is now a museum dedicated to the history of astronomy, timekeeping and meteorology within Australia. Entry to the museum is free and to compliment this, we run daily and nightly tours for a small fee, which include visits to the telescope domes to use the telescopes on site where we safely see the Sun during the day and we observe planets, stars, and constellations during the night (weather permitting). A visit to Sydney Observatory will encourage you to think about the importance of astronomy and timekeeping in Australia, while making you wonder about the curiosities of the universe!

Sydney Observatory taken in 2016. Image courtesy of Brenan Dew.
Sydney Observatory taken in 2016.
Image courtesy of Brenan Dew.
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