During our family’s extended trip around central and eastern Australia, we stopped at Siding Springs Observatory near Coonabarabran NSW on the advice of a friend. Situated on the edge of the Warrumbungle National Park, the observatory holds a number of internationally significant telescopes including Australia’s largest optical telescope, the AAT. This place was truly incredible. World class science takes place here nightly and over the years, including quite a few Nobel Prize winning discoveries. The info centre outlined the kinds of technology and research onsite. The views into and around the dormant volcanic caldera and the surrounding National Park are dramatic and evocative.
Much of my art practice exists within the intersections between nature, science and wonder. I’m interested in how far idiosyncratic leaps of the imagination can go, when contemplating mixed or random experiences. Siding Spring was a site where ideas began to collide around my recent work.
For me the idea of the whole area as a viewing device was interesting… the observatory site, the volcano as a camera perhaps… the confluence of scientific observations, light particles from very distant galaxies, spectrography, robotic optics, 1960’s photographic technology, super-large pieces of specialist glass (Cervit) and super-polished aluminium composites, old and very new technology combined. The landscapes surrounding the observatory are sublimely dramatic and contain some of the world's rarest and most colourful zeolite crystals and rare fossils. When you remember that the telescopes often employ spectrography to discover the material composites of extremely distant planets and stars, it’s possible to connect the here and now of the local geological wonder to the vastness of universal matter and material. (if you do go, remember to pop into Crystal Kingdom in Coonabarabran on the way out of town to see some very rare samples. It’s a time warp in one sense, however the staff we spoke to had a wealth of specialist (and not so specialist!) knowledge and the samples are beautiful and plenty, it is so worth the time).
Reading: At the time, I was reading Border Districts by Gerald Murnane
Sliding Spring website:
Australian Astronomical Optics website:
Image galleries from Itelescope:
World’s largest Virtual Solar System Drive (a scale replica of our solar system on the roads leading to Siding Spring)
Crystal Kingdom, Coonabarabran:
Taken from the SSO’s website
Siding Spring Observatory (SSO), on the edge of the Warrumbungle National Park near Coonabarabran, NSW, is Australia's premier optical and infrared astronomical observatory.
Since opening in 1964, The Australian National University has operated the observatory site hosting research telescopes from the ANU's Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics (RSAA), Las Cumbres Observatory (LCO) and many other institutions from around the world at this spectacular location next to the picturesque Warrumbungle National Park, Australia's first International Dark Sky Park (IDSP). For more information on the Dark Sky Park, click here.
Research caried out at SSO is varied, from probing the depths of the cosmos in search of "Dark Energy" to searching the Milky Way for other planets and signs of life. Nearly every night there's something new being done, and new discoveries being made.
You can learn more about the various telescopes and the organisations that own and run them on the telescopes of SSO page.
Images: Jon Butt