Sunday 3rd of September
Today’s major activity was to visit the Siding Springs Observatory, 25 Km west of Coonabarabran high up in the Warrumbungle Ranges. We had no ancillary jobs to do this morning like washing or shopping, that came later, so having finished breakfast etc., we drove out the road to the observatory. It was a slowly rising and sinuous drive through the foothills of the Warrumbungle Ranges, and then a couple of steep climbs up to the observatory itself.
The observatory is officially known as the Anglo-Australian Observatory, and is managed by the Australian National University in Canberra, and operated in conjunction with other observatories throughout the world. The main telescope has an around 4.5m diameter mirror, and is the largest optical telescope in the Southern Hemisphere. There are numerous other telescopes of various apertures and types within the Observatory complex. The Observatory had a large interpretive centre open to the public with excellent descriptive and audio visual displays concerning astronomy and all its aspects, including the latest research into exoplanets and dark energy.
The telescopes are not open to the public but the large 4.5m telescope has a viewing gallery where the public can see the telescope up close. It is daytime when the public a can visit the observatory so it is not operating. It was freezing cold in the viewing gallery as the telescope hall is kept refrigerated at night time observing temperatures to minimise thermal distortions of the telescope optics.
I was interested whilst there to find that there is a world wide network of remotely controlled optical telescopes that are accessible by the public via the Internet. At a modest cost one can log in to any one of around 30 telescopes, control them remotely, and make your own observations and research projects via computer. Time is booked for each telescope and charged accordingly. These public accessible telescopes are in Australia (at Siding Springs), Chile, California, and Spain. I will do some astronomical research myself on return home in a few weeks. For those interested, details of accessing and using this network of optical telescopes can be found at: www.itelescopes.net
When Linda and I set out this morning for Siding Springs, the day was beautiful and warm with clear blue sky’s but at the Siding Springs Observatory the day became quite cloudy and cold. Before departing from there Linda and I bought a souvenir observatory magnet and some books on basic astronomy for our grand kids. As we descended from the Warrumbungle Ranges back to Coonabarabran the day cleared and warmed up, and we then did a little shopping in Coonabarabran for tonight’s dinner. We returned to our tourist park only to find someone else in a caravan had camped on our site; we do not take up much room. On inquiring with our squatter, I was informed they are leaving early tomorrow morning, so we let them remain on the west end of our site; the camping/caravan sites at Coonabarabran are quite large.
After a light lunch Linda and I drove to the Coonabarabran Tourist Information Bureau to find out what we could do for the remainder of the day. We were advised to visit the sandstone caves, 30 Km to the north of the town. With that advice we drove out to the caves that are just off the Newell Highway in the Pilliga State Forests, a huge area of state forest to the north, east and west of Coonabarabran. The cave rocks are of great significance to the local aboriginal people of Coonabarabran, so there were lots of interpretive signs around the huge rock formations, as well as descriptions of the flora and fauna of the area. There is some limited aboriginal rock art around the rocks.
As we were leaving the area we had a small thunderstorm nearby and a sprinkling of rain therefrom. From the sandstone caves we returned to our tourist park at Coonabarabran for the end of the day. Tomorrow we head for Narrabri, about 200 Km south west of here.