Amateur astronomer, Donna Burton, is hoping to channel the buzz generated from the recent BBC and ABC Stargazing Live television events to attract more visitors to Coonabarabran and our dazzling night skies.
While Mrs Burton has operated Coona Astro Ventures in town for a number of years, she has recently taken up a contract managing the Milroy Observatory facility.
Located 10 kilometres from Coonabarabran along Morrissey’s Road, just off the Baradine Road, Milroy Observatory houses the refurbished 40-inch telescope from Siding Spring Observatory and is the largest public access viewing telescope in Australia.
Mrs Burton said the chance to manage Milroy was too good to pass up.
“Running Milroy is something I’ve wanted to do because I already do astronomy with the smaller telescopes in town,” Mrs Burton said.
“Given how much time I’ve spent on this telescope the past, in my other life up at Siding Spring, I’m somewhat attached to it.
“It’s fantastic to be able to talk to people about the telescope and about its history, and the history of the observatory as well, and how it all ties in together.”
Built in 1964, the 40-inch telescope was the first telescope used at Siding Spring Observatory. It was decommissioned in 2009 and given a new lease of life at Milroy.
On the shoulders of giants
Mrs Burton said some of the really major work, including understanding the galaxy and the Magellanic Clouds, was done on the 40-inch telescope.
“It was used by Bart Bok in the early days and later by Brian Schmidt and Penny Sackett.
“A lot of people used it for photography, and looking for planets around stars, but there was also a lot of work done in photometry - where instead of spectroscopy, where we look at the rainbows of things, we’re actually taking photos of the sky to confirm movements.
“Rob McNaught and I used it to confirm comets and meteors and asteroids.
“It’s amazing that the public can now use the same piece of technology that was once used for such amazing research...it’s almost like standing on the shoulders of giants.”
Stargazing season in full swing
With daylight savings coming to an end and the Milky Way directly overhead, now is a great time to experience the southern skies in all their glory.
“Jupiter and Saturn are coming up earlier, so you’ll be able to see them most nights now.
“Because of the size of the telescope you can actually look at things, like the nebulas, in more detail than you can in other types of telescopes.
“So, for those who are more interested in the science side of things, you can see in a lot more depth, but for people who just want to have a look through a big telescope, it’s perfect.
“And then you can take some photos using your digital SLR or iPhone after the show.”
Astronomy Capital of Australia
As Professor Brian Cox and television crews from Stargazing Live prepare to depart the region, Mrs Burton said now was the time to take advantage of the exposure the show had generated.
“We’re about to get massive publicity across the world,” she said.
“This is like being handed the lotto, but we’ve got to do the right thing with it.
“When people are talking about astronomy, they should be talking about Coonabarabran.
“We, as a town and a community, need to get behind this and reaffirm why we are the astronomy capital of Australia.”
Local amateur astronomer and business owner, Donna Burton, has recently taken up a contract to manage Milroy Observatory.