How time flies: maintaining our 159 year-old Time Ball tradition

April 10, 2017

Adam Schaefer is an astronomy guide at Sydney Observatory and a PhD candidate at the Sydney Institute for Astronomy, University of Sydney. In this post he discusses our historic Time Ball and the appeal to help restore it to its former glory.

When building observatories astronomers go to great lengths to escape the limiting effects of city lights and humid coastal weather. So atop a small hill overlooking the busiest harbour in one of Australia’s fastest growing cities seems like an odd place to build an observatory. Paradoxically, it was this proximity to the heart of commerce in a young city that allowed Sydney Observatory to fulfil its primary function.

Sydney Observatory was built in 1858 to provide accurate time to the people of Sydney and, more importantly, to the navigators of ships who used the local time to determine their position on the high seas. Astronomers would communicate the time to people in the city and harbour by dropping the time ball at exactly 1pm every day.

Sydney Observatory's Time Ball has been telling the time since 1858.

To celebrate the important part that Sydney Observatory played in the city’s history we keep the tradition alive and continue to drop the time ball every afternoon. This event can be witnessed at 1 p.m. from anywhere around Sydney Harbour where the Observatory is visible.

Keeping the tradition of the time ball alive is something we take very seriously. Yet a century and a half of use has taken its toll and the mechanism is in need of major repairs and conservation. Any donations to this cause are greatly appreciated.

Donations over $2 are tax deductible.



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