Reaching for the stars

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The Mount Burnett Observatory (MBO) tourist attraction is seeking community donations towards the installation of a new telescope to improve access, increase tourism and to cater for advanced viewing projects.

The MBO astronomical society has trained its lens on replacing its large 18-inch telescope with a Sirius 3.5 computerised dome and telescope.

The new dome would have ground-floor access, improving accessibility for those with limited mobility, and the ‘go-to’ technology would enable the tracking of astronomical objects overnight.

Outreach co-ordinator Heike Reich said the current telescope was installed in the ’80s and was never designed for large volumes of visitors.

“With the success of the observatory we are finding that our facilities are no longer capable of matching public demand,” Ms Reich said.

“Our aim is to make the observatory as much a part of the social fabric of the community as Puffing Billy.

“We already know that people will travel from all over Melbourne – and beyond – just to visit us.

“In the very first year of our society’s existence, we received an email from NASA asking us if we would be televising footage of an asteroid flyby.

“We didn’t have the capacity to do so then. If that email came and the new telescope was online, we would be able to answer the call.”

Ms Reich said the current telescope was not designed to be used as a viewing telescope and that access requires a steep ladder.

“Use of the telescope is limited by the nature of its design and a lack of computerisation,” she said.

“The new dome is single storey which will make it easier for everyone to share in viewing the wonders of the universe.

“The new telescope will be smaller but its size and quality will depend on the money we raise.

“We want something truly special for our community observatory so citizen scientists and our partner schools can once more do research on the mountain.”

The observatory was established in the 1970s by Monash University as a field station for astrophysics research students but was taken over by the MBO society in 2011.

The volunteer-run observatory has grown to be one of the largest of its kind in Victoria.

In addition to the expense of purchasing the telescope and dome, MBO will require more than $10,000 to upgrade the infrastructure onsite ready for the new dome.

To view the crowdfunding campaign, visit http://www.gofundme.com/28ynkzc4.

Originally published at Pakenham Gazette.

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About Alana Mitchelson

Alana Mitchelson is a journalist based in Melbourne, Australia. Follow her on Twitter at @AlanaMitchelson.

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