Kirsti: The telescopes at ANU’s Siding Springs Observatory in the Warrumbungle National Park are having birthdays! FOUR birthdays in fact. And they celebrated recently with one of the best programs for Starfest2014 to date.
The Warrumbungle Festival of the Stars is on right now, and runs until Monday 27th of October. It’s the community’s way of saying “we love astronomy and art!”, and Starfest2014 is a part of it. The event attracts professional and amateur astronomers from all over Australia, as well as families, tourists, travellers and science nerds from near and far.
I happened to go this year, and boy do I wish I’d had some more kid-free time for the adult stuff! There was Science in the Pub with Radio National’s Robyn Williams, and an all-star cast (pun intended) including @astropixie. There were talks by amaze-balls astronomers like Fred Watson and Nobel Prize winner Brian Schmidt, and astronaut Andy Thomas giving the Bok Lecture!
We got to see some talks for kids, and spent time in the exploratory centre at Siding Springs. Here I learnt I would weigh almost 2 tonnes on the sun but only about 10 kgs on the Moon (note to self: go there some day).
But we were absolutely blown away by the sheer size and workings of the Anglo-Australian Telescope, operated by the Australian Astronomical Observatory. It turned 40 this year, having taken its first photos in 1974. Over its life it has detected clouds near the surface of Venus, photographed the explosion of the Supernova 1987A (allowing astronomers’ unprecedented understanding of the death of a star), and identified (for the first time) an isolated brown dwarf star in our Galaxy! These, and oh, just a few other spectacularly life-changing things….
We were able to walk around inside it, stare in awe at the 3.9m diameter mirror, and then walk out onto the observation deck about 26m up, with the most incredible view of the Warrumbungle National Park ever!
So even though I am into tiny things with six legs on our own planet, Starfest2014 succeeded in blowing my mind with big picture space science. It’s worth the drive out there at this time of year as all the wildflowers are out too.
Ahhhh, school holidays, why are you over?!