Tuesday, January 15, 2013

SSO: as the smoke clears

some news from the ANU, official owners and maintainers of the siding spring observatory, has been released this morning about the extent of the fire damage at SSO.  (links to: as the fire happened, and the day after)

today's focus is to help affected staff and their families who are in need of assistance: physical, emotional, financial.  they are looking into options for an emergency appeal to assist affected staff.

regarding the site, they claim that the visual assessment yesterday confirmed:

•    3 buildings have been destroyed (The Lodge, a cottage and a storage building)
•    3 buildings have been badly damaged (The Visitors Centre and two sheds)
•    4 telescopes appear to have some smoke damage to their buildings

i do not know which telescope buildings suffered from smoke damage, and as far as i know, only the outsides of the buildings have been inspected, not the internal structures or the actual telescopes.   this will occur tomorrow (wed). 

ANU claims that "fire preparation works appear to have been successful in preventing catastrophic damage to the scientific facilities" which is a statement i'd like to emphasize.   i've read comments where people claim that clearing all plant life some distance (i've read 100m to 2km) around the observatory would prevent any potential fires.   this is not a practical solution, and if there was an "easy" solution, it would have been taken.   the precautions that were taken assured no loss of human life and so far, minimal damage to telescope facilities.   very impressive in my opinion.  fires are inevitable, and they're powerful beasts.

also, the ANU claims to have ~ $80m of assets at SSO, which are fully insured.   this is good news after the insurance hassle in the aftermath of the mt stromlo fires.  i cannot give solid values for AAOs investment at this time.

on a more personal note,  i watched the TV news when i finally got home last night, which i almost never do.  the aerial video footage and interviews brought unexpected tears to my eyes. 

the warrumbungle shire council mayor, peter shinton, talked about the animals.   while thankfully (and even miraculously) no humans were lost as the fast-moving fire destructively swept over the area, the wildlife and livestock suffered.  he said that he had just finished telling a woman that all the animals on her farm died, and was shaken by having to share this news and console her.

he also described finding "kangaroos in piles in the middle of the road, where they've come down to the road and have just been baked alive because the fire was on both sides."

then there were the helicopter images of the observatory.  one scene in particular, a shot above the massive anglo-autralian telescope dome, looking west over the warrumbungle national park, in the direction i always watch the sun setting over the gorgeous valley, monitoring the cloud cover and predicting the weather patterns for the long night ahead.

the valley and hills next to the telescope were covered in tall, thin, black and barren tree trunks, smoldering.  really seeing this change for the first time made me cry.

UPDATE (16:50):  the faulkes-south telescope, operated by LCOGT, provided many webcam images that were used to monitor the situation at siding spring the night of the fire.  ed gomez has put together this timelapse of the whole event.  it was tough for me to watch:

here is a (slow) timelapse from the solaris-3 telescope on siding spring, kindly provided by allison reynolds:


UPDATE (22:00):  no news is good news, right?   sometimes.

CSIRO, who operate the MOPRA radio telescope near siding spring observatory, reported this afternoon that they had an electrician and representatives from the rural fire service at site to assess the damage.   i have not seen a follow-up report yet.

there is a delegation of big wigs set to meet tomorrow morning in coonabarabran for an update and to discuss the situation at siding spring observatory.  i suspect news will become available after lunch tomorrow or in the afternoon.  

the Wambelong fire continues to burn, currently covering 42,000 hectares (160 sq miles) of the warrumbungle national park.  the fire is  8km west of coonabarabran and 4km south of siding spring right now. 

from all accounts i've received, heard, and read, the area surrounding coonabarabran  is a "disaster zone," which is heart-breaking news.  fire service crews will be working overnight, taking advantage of milder conditions, to put containment lines around the edges of the fire, hoping to protect coona before the winds change.  weather is expected to deteriorate on thursday (change in wind direction and increase in temperature), so the threat to the area has not yet ended. 

the warrumbungle shire mayor’s official bushfire appeal has been announced.  please visit THIS LINK to make financial donations, if you wish/can.  

a resident near coona has posted a disturbing photo of burned trees and kangaroos, claiming that its a common sight on the rural roads around the area right now.  i will not reproduce the image on this blog, but you can view it here if you wish.  

the AAO continues to receive an amazing amount of support and concern from colleagues and friends nationally and internationally.   these are very much appreciated, as are the comments, feedback, and emails i've personally received here and on twitter.  thank you.  

so as not to end on too somber a note, i'll tease you with the knowledge that tomorrow (hopefully) i'll post a light-hearted, humorous tidbit for your visual pleasure.   regular readers might suspect what i'm implying and the rest of you are left to be surprised ;)   good night. 


Daniel Fischer said...

According to this tweet from Monday SSO staff could briefly check out all telescopes, finding them all "relatively unscathed except for ingress of ash and smoke."

Luke said...

Let's Just pray that the Scopes Have not suffered any Damage, If at all, I have been to the SSO Once, It was part of a 5 Day Rail Tour that we had, Just a Question I have, If there is any Smoke damage to the Scopes, Can this be Rectified?

astropixie said...

hi luke. the AAT's primary mirror is stripped and recoated with aluminium (almost) once a year. so at the very least, the mirror can be cleaned, and ideally the reflective coating can be stripped and completely recoated. hope that is what you were asking!

Luke said...

Thank you Astropixie, That does Expalin it. At Least bone of the Scopes have Suffered too much which is a Blessing

Luke said...


Anonymous said...

Thanks for this update with positive news... a pitty the lodge burned down. Let's hope this was the end of the bushfires for summer 2013!

RefractorPhill - Belgium

Bookkeeper Sunshine Coast said...

The least and the most effective I could do is to pray for those affected families. Let's accept this tragedy that if we lose something, then we will expect greater things in return.