Wednesday, January 16, 2013

siding spring obs fires: day three

some good news to start off the day!

the interiors of both the 4m anglo-australian telescopes and the 1.2m UK Schmidt Telescopes at Siding Spring Observatory have been inspected.  there is a lot of ash and debris inside the domes that will need to be cleaned, but there is no visual indication at this stage that the instruments have suffered any damage.  hurray!

the instruments have not been inspected in detail, nor have the electronics been tested, but that will not happen until the situation is safe enough for staff to return to the mountain.  that will not be today.  generators are still supplying power to site.

two staff members inspecting the MOPRA facility yesterday, which lives in the valley between siding spring and coonabarabran.  full report from CSIRO:  HERE.  they found that the equipment room withstood the fire!  there appears to be no internal damage to that room, as the equipment looks fine, but they have not tested anything yet.   also, the receivers appear to not have suffered any physical damage.  here's a photo of the equipment room:

MOPRA's intact equipment room (credit: AstroHead/CSIRO)

MOPRA control building (credit: AstroHead/CSIRO)

MOPRA control building (credit: AstroHead/CSIRO)

view from MOPRA to Siding Spring (credit: AstroHead/CSIRO)
it all could have been a lot worse.

the Wambelong fire near coonabarabran still burns.  this is an aerial photo of the smoke plume taken by a commercial airline pilot and posted yesterday by the RFS commissioner.

UPDATE (11:10):  i won't post any further updates on MOPRA.   please see MOPRA news from CSIRO for continuing information.

UPDATE (18:30):  today some major figures visited coonabarabran, including Matthew Colless (former AAO director and current ANU Director of the Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics - as of two weeks ago), Patricia Kelly (from the federal Department of Industry, Innovation, Science, Research and Tertiary Education), Neville Legg (AAO's general manager), and other ANU staff including their Vice-Chancellor and some counselling staff.   from all accounts these meetings and discussions were productive and have had a very positive effect of the staff up there, which is a relief to hear.  

the current report from RFS claims that 40 properties, 110 outbuildings, livestock and farm machinery have been destroyed and this number is likely to change as crews work through the damage.  my heart (and some clothes and a financial donation) goes out to the families affected, and those still facing potential danger. 

as for siding spring - on site generators have been refilled, so there remains power on site for essential services.  there is a large store of water on site, but no water mains are currently able to get water up there.  timor road, the main road between coonabarabran and siding spring, is finally now open, but the side road leading up to the observatory is very definitely closed.  the siding spring observatory will remain closed to all except necessary personnel accompanied by the rural fire service for the original two week period that was announced.  

a full safety inspection will take place on monday, 21st january, so until the site is deemed secure and safe, no clean up or further instrument damage assessment can be accomplished.

those of us who were supposed to be getting data this week are just relieved that people are all safe.  we plan to re-apply for time next year.   the galaxies will still be there.  as for observations planned in the coming months, we are all making preparations under the assumption that the facilities will be operating as soon as possible.  until we hear otherwise, it's full science ahead!     


Pete said...

Thankfully the damage wasn't worse than it is.

heroineworshipper said...

Mt. Hamilton & Mt. Palomar observatories are in a similar situation, crowded by bushes. There's not a lot in science budgets for fire buffering & environmentalists want as little land disrupted as possible. Hopefully the data is stored off site. Instruments & buildings can be replaced, given enough time & money, but data & people can't.