A few weeks ago on Saturday February 13th my girlfriend and I experienced a “star viewing” night at the Perth Observatory. I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect and hadn’t previously been to the observatory since I was around 8 years old! I was extremely excited to go again, just seeing a night sky without the depressing light pollution around the metropolitan area would be exciting enough to satisfy me. But boy was I blown away! It truly was one of the most enjoyable nights I’ve had in a long time. Whilst quite brief (around 90 minutes) the whole thing left me drooling for more. During the viewing night I was madly scribbling notes down in my girlfriend’s diary (in pitch black) for fear of forgetting something. I’ll quickly give a run on the history of Perth Observatory and what is involved in their viewing nights.
A Little History
Perth Observatory is actually Australia’s oldest continually running Observatory. First built near to Kings Park (a large park near to the capital) in 1897 the construction of the observatory heralded a long lasting era of astronomical research and discovery. Aside from the scientific importance the completion of the observatory also meant that Perth at long last could accurately measure the time! The Observatory stayed at that location until it was moved (due to light pollution) in 1966 to its current location in the foothills at Bickley. Unfortunately even this move was not sufficient to properly shield the heavens from light pollution and there is an unfortunate loss of clarity in the Western portion of the sky.
The Viewing Night
Arranging the viewing night was a quick and painless affair. At the cost of a meal ($20) you can easily book yourself in with a single phone call. Once there you are greeted by the warm and experienced staff, all astronomers with at least a decade experience. After a brief history lesson in the observatory’s museum including a look at some real life asteroids and amazing sky photos taken locally, you are quickly whisked off up to the telescopes. It’s a quick walk up a path with strip lights to guide your way (which switch off once you’ve arrived) and very quickly you’re standing amongst the viewing scopes.
A quick introduction to the night sky ensues (with the help of a visible laser pointer) and such objects as Mars, The large and small magellanic clouds, the brightest stars (Sirius taking the cake) and of course the beautiful milky way itself! Seeing the thick arch of stars that is our arm of the milky way stretched out above you like a backbone holding up the sky is an amazing sight which is completely invisible inside the metropolitan area. I envy greatly those of you who live in areas where this is a common sight. I dare say that many Australians aren’t even aware that the milky way even forms this band across the sky.