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Dr Craig Bowers celebrates the Perth telescope that contributed greatly to astronomical field over its half a century lifetime.

Lowell Telescope celebrates 50 years of astronomical innovation and discovery

By Melissa Sheil

AN ICONIC Perth telescope with one of the most impressive resumes in Australia is turning 50 this weekend.

Located at Perth Observatory in Bickley, the Lowell Telescope counts co-discovering the rings of Uranus, taking the most photographs of Comet Halley in the world and contributing key astronomical research findings amongst its many achievements.

An event to celebrate the milestone of the telescope will take place on Saturday, with a guided tour, art competition, dinner, and speeches from astronomers who utilised the telescope, Peter Birch and Dr Craig Bowers.

Dr Bowers, who worked at the Observatory in the 1980s and 90s and now volunteers as Honorary historian, said the Lowell Telescope is one of the most unique telescopes in the world with a fruitful history.

“It was originally one of the telescopes commissioned in 1971 to form the International Planetary Patrol which studied dust storms, clouds, annual changes in shape and weather patterns on the planets,” he said.

“It was hugely successful in the search for supernovas and was responsible for a lot of the changing theories on asteroids and comets – a PhD student and I actually used it to help discover the jets on comets through experimentation and sheer boredom one night.

“Even the structure is unique, it’s very high up, 13 metres in the air and is very exposed and open.

“We achieved significant scientific discoveries on a shoestring budget with this telescope and had a pretty good time doing it.

“I remember we used to climb up to the roof of the Lowell with our coffees and watch the sun rise over the trees – this was before health and safety obviously, but I do have a soft spot for the old thing.”

Since the State Government ceased funding for the Observatory in 2014, the site has been run by volunteers, ending the official research capacity of the Lowell.

Now living out its days to conduct STEM educational programs and school and public tours, the Lowell is in disrepair, though Dr Bowers hopes it can revive its past research pedigree with funding.

“It’s a shame to see this great telescope not working to its highest capacity, so hopefully we scrounge some money to see it up researching again.

“That being said, it’s brilliant to watch a kid use it – they scream when they see the moon for the first time.

“It’s really one of the most important telescopes in the Southern hemisphere, which the public has saved – we thank Perth residents for getting it to 50 years.”

The event is on Saturday, April 24 at Perth Observatory at 4.30pm

Visit www.perthobservatory.com.au/shop/events/lowells-50th

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