Mt Stromlo Observatory

Mount Stromlo Observatory located just outside of Canberra, Australia is part of the Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics at the Australian National Observatory (ANU).

The observatory was established in 1924, and until WWII 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. A formal amalgamation with the ANU took place in 1957.

On 18 January 2003 the devastating Canberra firestorm hit Mount Stromlo (which was surrounded by a plantation pine forest) destroying five telescopes, workshops, seven homes and the heritage listed administration building. The only telescope to escape the fires was the 15-centimetre Farnham telescope. Relics from the fire are now preserved in the collection of the National Museum of Australia. They include a melted telescope mirror and a piece of melted optical glass. The latter has pieces of charcoal and wire fused into it from the fierce heat of the fire.

One of the larger telescopes remains a burnt-out ruin as of October 2013. Although repainted externally, the interior remains a blackened reminder of 2003.
The Mount Stromlo Observatory Precinct with its expansive mountain top views, remaining dome structures and remnant 1926 architecture, has high aesthetic value.
My love of astronomy started here when as a small boy, my Dad took me to see the telescope …. Probably about 50 years ago. Whenever in Canberra I always try to drive up and just walk around – the Cafe has good espresso, and the panorama looking into the hazy distance never ceases to amaze me.


9 thoughts on “Mt Stromlo Observatory

  1. Sad to see the loss of the observatories. A few years ago Mt Palomar (200″ Hale Telescope) was threatened, and just barely spared from a forest fire in California. And the news of the fires currently in the Blue Mountains is headline news up here the states.


    1. Thought you might be interested in this news article from earlier this year when the large Siding Spring Observatory in Australia almost succumbed to fires …. Only the fire resistant design features saved the main scope dome from severe damage – it sounds similar to what happened at Palomar. I guess all of our serious observatories are prime bushfire targets given they are all on top of mountains with bush land all around.


      1. Most impressive webcam images, and 100 deg C on a weather station…. Luckily many of the worlds observatories are also well above the tree lines. Thanks for the link. M


  2. These are fantastic images, and even though the history is tragic I enjoyed reading it. I think this is a place I could spend all day and never run out of interesting things to discover.


    1. Hi Alex … There are some images on this link that show just how much damage was done to Stromlo a decade ago. Going there now you don’t get to see the reality of what the astronomers found the day after. Strangely, the main dome which was totally destroyed internally is closed off (black and burnt inside still) but repainted externally


    1. Hi Stefan …. The fires of great concern in Australia at this time are in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney – we are to the west of that and well away from the fire front and in no danger.


      1. That’s good to hear! Even if those fires might be normal for nature – they are teally bad fate for the people living nearby.
        I’ve been in the blue mountains many years ago – it’s also a pitty that those areas will be destroyed for many years.
        Kind regards from Stefan


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