Clearer skies ahead for Perth Observatory

Clearer skies ahead for Perth Observatory

PERTH Observatory has reopened, with a small group of volunteers and retirees running the historic centre for the Department of Parks and Wildlife.

Since the State Government withdrew funding and staff for the site, about 80 volunteers have spent months learning to work the telescopes at the Bickley centre.

The observatory photographed Halley’s Comet in the 1970s and played a role in the discovery of the ring system around Uranus.

It also helped to discover 29 minor planets between 1970 and 1999.

Funding for research programs was withdrawn in 2013 and in March this year, all but one staff member was made redundant. State funding has been redirected to the Mid-West, where radio technology has taken a big bite out of old-fashioned stargazing techniques.

Some of the volunteers have already been at the centre for years, working there since they retired.

State-based freelance astronomer Richard Tonello said the Bickley site was still important to Perth and was happy that community spirit and support would help it to remain open.

“This site is a very important part of the astronomy map in terms of it being located at the particular latitude and longitude,” he said.

The centre is now an education facility, which will open for daytime tours. Volunteers will organise school excursions to encourage children to get excited about the solar system.

The day tours relate to the Australian National Curriculum. Students can take part in activities around the Observatory’s grounds to broaden their science knowledge in astronomy and physics, observe the modern and historical telescopes, and look through them.

Students can also browse the museum to see historical instruments, a meteorite exhibition, astrophotography and artwork, and an historic 1729 Atlas from the UK.

The tours can be adapted for holiday groups.

The Department of Parks and Wildlife will continue to maintain the grounds.

Stargazers can adopt a star or join the Observatory for an annual fee.