Mount Stromlo Observatory

Mount Stromlo Observatory (MSO) located just outside of Canberra, Australia, is part of the Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics at the Australian National University (ANU). The observatory was established in 1924 as The Commonwealth Solar Observatory. The Mount Stromlo site had already been used for observations in the previous decade, a small observatory being established there by Pietro Baracchi using the Oddie telescope being located there in 1911.

We can read at the ANU web-site:

By 1922 interest in the observatory was revived. The administration complex, built in 1926-29, was designed by J.S. Murdoch, C.R. Casboulte and H. Rolland of the Federal Capital Commission. With its Mediterranean style hipped roofs of tile, rough cast walls and garden courts, the administration building was typical of Federal Capital architecture. Symmetrical octagonal towers at either end of the building supported telescope domes (the Sun Telescope at the east end and the Farnham Telescope at the west), both featuring sun motif roundels. The Reynolds Dome was built in 1929 with a 30 inch reflector. In that year, Duffield died and was buried on the mountain. Dr and Mrs Duffield’s grave is well sited on high ground overlooking the Murrumbidgee River.

The dome built to house the Oddie telescope was the first Commonwealth building constructed in the newly established Australian Capital Territory. Initially used to test the conditions for a possible observatory, the telescope site is located at the northern end of the ridge, set on a high point of Mount Stromlo. Throughout the 1930s the Oddie Telescope was used for stellar spectroscopy. At various times, the Oddie building has been used to house observers and caretakers of the observatory and in more recent years it served an educational function. Until World War II, the observatory specialised in solar and atmospheric observations. During the war the workshops contributed to the war effort by producing gun sights, and other optical equipment. After the war, the observatory shifted direction to stellar and galactic astronomy and was renamed The Commonwealth Observatory.

The various telescopes conducted different aspects of research. The Oddie did the first measurement of brightness, colour and spectral classification of southern stars. The Farnham was mainly used to test instruments or used as a guide telescope for wide angle cameras. The Solar Tower was used for solar observations, and the lens is now used in the Duffield heliostat. The Great Melbourne telescope was adapted to search for dark matter. The Reynolds Telescope was used for surveys of southern stars and galaxies. The Schmidt telescope in the Uppsala Dome was used for surveys of the Southern Milky Way and Magellanic Clouds. The Yale Columbia telescope surveyed the distribution of stars and their motions and provided NASA with orbits for the moons of Saturn. The 74 inch Telscope was used to track the life cycles of stars.

The Mount Stromlo Observatory, was severely damaged by the 2003 south-eastern Australian fires, resulting in the loss of important historic buildings, scientific equipment and documents.

Recommended reading: The Commonwealth Observatory by A. R. Hogg [1953] and ANU web-site.


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