By Melissa Sheil
WESTERN Australia’s oldest observatory celebrated 125 years of scientific achievement this week, with the State Government gifting a generous present of $1.6 million in funding.
Perth Observatory originally opened on September 29, 1896 on Mount Eliza in West Perth, but was moved to its current Bickley location in 1966 to escape the increasing light pollution.
The Observatory had a rocky start, as failure to receive funding led WA’s first premier John Forrest to hide its budget costs under the operating budgets for the Perth Mint and the WA Museum.
In its early years, the Observatory determined the latitude and longitude of Perth, provided weather reports and made important contributions to observations of the southern hemisphere sky.
Its scientific resume includes NASA’s International Planetary Patrol, studying Comet Halley, discovering minor planets, Uranus’ rings, supernovas and an exoplanet.
Though the Observatory’s funding ceased in 2013, a group of volunteers have worked to keep it running, with the focus shifted from discovery to public outreach and education – work helped along by the $1.6 million government grant awarded this year.
Observatory administrator Matthew Woods said the Perth Observatory was not only valuable scientifically but is also celebrated by the public.
“The Perth Observatory is important because we filled a telescope gap between the east coast of Australia and South Africa and we had a fantastic staff who were able to do incredible work on a limited budget,” he said.
“It’s great to be able to work and volunteer at the Observatory because as a group, we’re keeping an important part of WA’s history alive and we get to share our passion for the night sky with the public and hopefully inspire kids to become astronomers.”
On October 2 from 10am to 9pm, the Observatory will hold birthday event ‘CosmosCon’, with guided tours, astronomy activities and talks, live music and safe viewing of the sun and space objects.
Visit www.perthobservatory.com.au/cosmoscon to book.