Thursday, January 31, 2013

silhouettes in the moon

this is not a timelapse movie, its a real time video, which becomes clear as soon as the first tiny people show up in silhouette. 

this video was shot by Mark Gee in the southern hemisphere - no "man in the moon" that some people in the north are familiar with.  i've always had trouble seeing that face. 

anyway, this video is absolutely gorgeous.  enjoy.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

siding spring obs fires: clean up begins

i'm pleased to report mostly good news from siding spring observatory (SSO), two and a half weeks after the wambelong fire swept though the area

authorized SSO staff were allowed to return to the mountain on tuesday to begin the telescope and  instrument assessments.  this was after an arborist team removed over 100 hazardous trees at site and along the winding road leading up to the observatory.  

cleaning is almost finished in the building that houses the 4 meter anglo-australian telescope (AAT)!   the elevator (the only elevatory within a 200 km radius) is not working, but should be fixed tomorrow.  the primary mirror will be inspected tomorrow and reflectivity tested before its cleanup begins. 

as for AAT instrumentation, the big dog (for my work at least) is the 2dF (two degree field) robot at the prime focus of the telescope, and the spectrograph it feeds, AAOmega, which lives two floors below, in the hollows of the building.   both systems have been initiated and flat fields and arc frames have been successfully collected! 

UCLES, the high resolution echelle spectrograph, has been tested and appears to be working fine. 

the UK schmid telescope was being tested today, but i have not heard any updates from there.

so overall, very good news, and clean up efforts are all on target to have the observatory up and running by the predicted date of 18th feb.   the remaining unknown is when the site will be deemed safe for visiting astronomers to return.   the buildings that were destroyed are blocked off by fences due to asbestos.   also, some arrangements will have to be made to house the astronomers and engineers when they are on the mountain to observe, but details of those plans are not yet set.

staff at site sound positive despite the intense work.  we could not be more grateful for their efforts!   especially this guy, shown here talking to prime minister, julia gillard, at site the week after the fire.  thank you, doug et al!

Doug Gray with Julia Gillard (Credit: Neville Legg)

PM Julia Gillard talks to SSO staff (Credit: Neville Legg)

Damage from the fire (Credit: Chris Ramage)

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

nuts in space

no, this is not a dirty space news post.  so sorry to tease. 

this is a video from CSA astronaut chris hadfield showing how mixed nuts dance around for when you open canister in space.   they look like live little creatures!

Sunday, January 27, 2013

"strayan" open tournament

last weekend i ventured to melbourne to see a day of live tennis action at the australian open.  we spent about 10 hours one day watching tennis matches and i was never bored for a second.   following that trip, i have been engrossed in the tournament all week, which culminates this weekend in the finals matches.

one thing i appreciated while at the tournament is that there are very few professional sports where the women's game is as recognized and well-respected as the men's.   i wish there were more.   women's cycling gets some attention, but there is no tour de france for women.  

i enjoy watching the women's soccer world cup matches more than the men's.   women play with more finesse and dont participate in all the ridiculous diving on the ground, which means the game is more fluid and continuous and harnesses the spirit of the "beautiful game."  unfortunately, the top women's soccer players in the world do not get paid enough to play the sport professionally.   so in addition to their rigorous training regimens, they have full time occupations that take their focus away from bringing their sports to their full potential.   

in light of the fantastical sums of money men's professional sport players receive each year, i find it incredibly disappointing that female athletes are not treating with more respect.  do better, world!

anyway, back to the tennis. 

the first match we saw live was the eventual tournament winner, victoria azarenka.  i was not too impressed by azarenka's stunt during the semi-finals, but she was an impressive player to watch.  i never appreciated the efficiency and power of their serves while watching matches on tv. 

we next watched serena williams, an intimidating body of elegant muscle, easily win her match.   she served a 207 km/h ace in this match.  incredible.

also, i love the design of that melbourne logo.  

i found this utterly baffling advertisement in a bathroom stall.  what the...?

the final match we saw in the rod laver arena was the 2012 olympic champion, andy murray.   he has an impressively defined muscular body, way more so in person, even from our distance, than he appears on tv.  i admit, i was surprisingly distracted when he was on our side of the court! 

i might have been the only one here cheering for murray over sweetheart federer during the semi-finals, but he played a better match and deserved the win.   tonight i'll be cheering for murray over djokovic in the final.

we also got to see venus and serena williams play a doubles match together.

very happy in the sun :)

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

astronaut tumblrs from space

did you know that canadian astronaut chris hadfield is on the international space station RIGHT NOW, and is continually posting photos to his tumblr and twitter accounts FROM SPACE, in addition to doing cool science?

in addition to taking photos of earth from space, like images of the australian bushfires:

he recently shared a photo of a space nacho saying "Variety is the Spice - corn chip, salsa, mushroom pate and jalapeno, floating weightless."

fun with technology!

siding spring obs fires: a week of waiting

we're still waiting on the results of the soil and air samples that were taken at site this week.   an announcement will be made today by ANU and AAO about the current status of siding spring observatory in the aftermath of the fires, and when staff will safely be able to return to site and start the clean up effort.

until the news appears, i wanted to show some photos taken by photographer joshua smith for reuters.  these show views around the warrumbungle national park 6 days after the wambelong fire did its major damage to the area.

there is the 4-meter anglo-australian telescope (AAT) peaking over the hills and tree bones.  

Credit: Josh Smith
UPDATE (16:15):

this sign is along timor rd from coonabarabran.   when i drove up to the observatory at night, i always looked for it or else i missed the tun up the curvy road to the telescopes.

Credit: Josh Smith
this gives an idea of what the destroyed homes in the area look like.   

Credit: Josh Smith
Credit: Josh Smith
see all 47 photos here.

UPDATE (16:10):  access to siding spring observatory has been suspended until at least 18th february, 2013.  this is due to the continuing safety assessment.   there is a high danger for trees to fall due to weakened soil (what i call "landslides" they call "landslips" - cute!).  there is also asbestos around the sites of the destroyed buildings and other potential hazardous materials. 

as soon as the site opens again, insurance loss assessors will inspect the facilities and site and the staff will begin the cleaning, repairs, and detailed assessment of telescope and instrument status. 

once the site opens for observations again (at the earliest, 18th feb), temporary arrangements will have to be made to house technical staff and astronomers visiting the site.  these details will be revealed when they become relevant. 

life's musical chairs

another gem from jessica hagy at indexed.


Tuesday, January 22, 2013

hawking radiation

ever wonder what the big deal about stephen hawking is?   late last year he won a physics prize of $3 million dollars (more than twice what the nobel prize gives). 

university of nottingham physicist, tony padilla, discusses hawking's three biggest contributions in this sixty symbols video.   very nicely explained, and cute story right at the end :)

Monday, January 21, 2013

siding spring obs fires: one week later

the wambelong fire passed through siding spring observatory and the surrounding warrumbungle national park during the last week.  the threatening fires are mostly out now thanks for some rain falling over the weekend.  there will be updates today as i put together the news from the weekend and the safety inspection occurs as site.

in the meantime, you can read a personal story of the events by rob mcnaught, a prolific discoverer of comets and asteroids using small-ish telescopes on siding spring.

here is a time-lapse movie taken from the home of one the AAT's telescope operators (edward pigot seismic observatory -  the movie shows 24 hours in 3 minutes from 5 km east of coonabarabran.   he says "Lightning strikes the night before had started small fires within the park, which flared into a major firestorm by mid-afternoon. A wind change brought the smoke plume overhead EPSO around 4pm, and during the night firelight reflected strongly in low cloud and smoke."  watch on the right side of the shots...

UPDATE (12:45): several times during my drives to siding spring observatory over the past two rainy years, i've heard many visiting astronomers comment that "the warrumbungles look more lush and green than i've ever seen!"  from my time in australia i've realized that weather patterns here are extreme, and they last for years.  there will be 5 years of intense drought followed by a few years of very rainy summers and every combination of everything in between. 

last year summer in sydney was a huge disappointment - rainy and cold the entire time with few of the stunningly wonderful sunny weekends to enjoy the beach like we've had this year.

so yes, the warrumbungle national park near coonabarabran was known to have an excess of low level brush that increased the potential danger of bushfire damage.   that is why controlled fires were burnt throughout the spring and warnings of bushfire danger were spread throughout the region as the summer was proving particularly sunny, dry and hot.

i write this in order to build the contrast between this photo i took from the top of the AAT dome in march 2012 (the foreground buildings are the director's cottage and the astronomers lodge - both destroyed in the fires.   the distant hill is speckled with telescopes, including skymapper and the 2.3m square building):

and these photos sent to me by AAT guru steve lee, showing the view along timor road that connects the observatory to coonabarabran.   as steve says, "The trees in the pictures look very peculiar in that they seem to have leaves on them, despite being completely burnt. These were ones where the fire wasn't so complete in destroying the tree. Spooky albino leaves. They'll drop off eventually."

(Credit: Steve Lee)

(Credit: Steve Lee)

(Credit: Steve Lee)
53 families have lost their homes in the area as a result of these fires.  the sydney observatory crew sent up a couple cars full of clothes, food, tools, and other supplies today in hope of helping out.   others can donate to the:  Warrumbungle Shire Mayor's Bushfire Appeal.

i'll update with information about today's safety inspection and the status of the telescopes as soon as i get it.

UPDATE (20:30):   site testing happened today at siding spring observatory.   this included checking for asbestos, which was still in some of the buildings that burned down.   they also took air samples and tested the soil for traces of other hazardous material, such as benzene, that may have been emitted from burning plastics, etc. 

Friday, January 18, 2013

siding spring obs fires: the PM visits

a brief update on the status of siding spring observatory after the bushfire swept through last sunday.

51 houses have been destroyed the by fires so far.   there is an impressive fire prevention story hidden in here, though.   

remember this photo?   mark burrow snapped it right before he turned his car around and drove away. 

Credit: Mark Barrow
it turns out that that house survived the fire thanks to a water drop made by the NSW rural fire service.  a staff member from the AAO was with the owner when she saw her property post-fire.   having assumed that the fire would have completely destroyed it after seeing this photo, she did a very excited impromptu dance when she saw that her house was saved.  amazing.

australian prime minister, julia gillard, visited siding spring yesterday to see the damages and share her concern.   here she is with AAO staff members, kristin fiegert, who have been voluntarily fighting off fires in the area since they began.

it looks like electrical power might be restored to siding spring as early as tomorrow, thanks to amazing effort of workers replacing nearly 20 km of power lines in only a few days!  the formal safety inspection will still not take place until monday.  they need to check for building integrity, asbestos, restore water lines, make sure no trees will fall, etc.  until then, we sit and wait, and hope the currently changing wind direction and record high temperatures dont cause too much more damage (sydney's temperature reached 46 C (115 F) today, beating the previous recorded record in 1939).

here are some photos from AAO telescope guru (whisperer?), steve lee, of his property as the fires threatened:

UPDATE (18:15): here is a short video of julia gillard's visit to SSO and several AAO and siding spring staff.  neville keeps the mood as light as possible ;)

did i see you on the internet?

"are u… did i see u on the internet?"
"um, i'm not in porn, no."
"no, talking about cosmology and stuff?"
"oh, yeah, that was probably me."

this conversation happened today. i only denied the porn straight away because the guy completely blushed when he started asking… turns out he had been watching sixty symbols videos!

Thursday, January 17, 2013

like a diamond in the sky

poster art by dan mccarthy:

siding spring obs fire: day 4

today, australian prime minister julia gillard will visit coonabarabran to talk with those affected by the fires, and convey her sympathy, concern and support.  she will be meeting with several members of the observatory staff. 

PM Julia Gillard visits Coonabarabran today (link)

sadly, several members of observatory staff have lost their homes, including john shobbrook, who shared the first visit to his property with the ABC news.   watch video here.

one of the big relief stories in the aftermath of the fires comes from the iTelescope team.  the project, finished just ONE WEEK before the fires, is installing a dozen robotic telescopes at a couple major observatories around the world, which can be used and operated remotely by amateur astronomers, educators, or anyone, really.   i had been watching their construction over the last couple months and its great news that their facilities received minimal damage.   you can catch photos and updates from them at the iTelescope facebook page.

physics world published an article about the fires at siding spring observatory.

and finally, a couple photos from timor road, the road leading past the observatory from coona, shared yesterday by matthew colless after his visit.

UPDATE (11:45):   prime minister julia gillard visited coonabarabran.  

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!     

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. 

Monday, January 14, 2013

siding spring obs. fires: day after

read my original post last night about bush fires hitting siding springs observatory.

now it is morning time the next day.   very early.   i slept soundly for a few hours.

what i know:  all people are safe.   yay!  firefighters are currently onsite at siding spring.    they say there is some damage to facilities, but they have not assessed the extent.

Morning view via LCOGT
the sun has risen and the first images available show positive signs of buildings standing where we saw evidence of small fires last night.  the main 4-meter telescope has survived the flame - which is good, as it is the designated fire evacuation area on the mountain.

here is a slower timelapse (from brad tucker) of the weather cameras outside the LCOGT telescope on SSO.   it covers most of yesterday and last night after darkness hit:

is case youre not clear where siding spring is located, here's a map:

Location of Siding Spring Observatory, Australia (Credit: LCOGT)
thanks for all your feedback, everyone.  i'll keep this page updated throughout the day.

UPDATE (08:00): the LCOGT cameras show the NSW rural fire service on site at siding spring.

the mayor of coona said this morning that the NSW RFS report the astronomer's lodge on site has been destroyed, but other buildings appear intact.   if the scopes are operational, i'll take my tent to sleep in!  ;)  (well, only if i get official permission, of course...)

UPDATE (08:20):  a photo from ryan unicomb, which must be an aerial shot from NSW RFS, but i'm not sure of their link (update: link).  you can see the burned patches go right up to the telescopes - the top right shows the skymapper and the square box houses the 2.3 meter.  not sure what the diagonal dark line indicates across that dome  the dark diagonal line shows stairs going to the top of the building.

UPDATE (08:35):  wow.  this is/was the astronomer's lodge, where we slept and ate while observing.  photo from NSW RFS:

UPDATE (09:00): from accounts i'm hearing, the structural destruction on the mountain is limited to the astronomer's lodge, the visitor's center, and a few of the staff homes.   the telescope facilities are intact, some are responding to computer communication from remote locations, but i cannot give more details than that for now.

in preparation for this possibility, and because of the fires in mt stromlo ten years ago, some measures have been taken over the years to help reduce the damage of bush fires at siding spring.  there have been controlled fires over the last six months, to rid the area of small fuel.  also, the facilities have mesh installed to repel embers from spreading fires too rapidly.

NSW RFS have reported that about a dozen homes near siding spring have been destroyed.   so sad. 

UPDATE (09:10):  the sydney morning herald's front page this morning quotes a witness as saying, "it looked like an atomic bomb":

UPDATE (09:30):  for those who are not familiar with the siding spring observatory, the site is owned and operated by the australian national university in canberra.  many telescopes are operated by the australian astronomical observatory (my employer) including the 4-meter anglo-australian telescope - the largest optical telescope in australia.  here is a list of all the telescopes at siding spring:

ANU 2.3m Telescope
ANU Skymapper Telescope
Uppsala Near Earth Object Survey Telescope
3.9m Anglo-Australian Telescope
United Kingdom Schmidt Telescope
Hat-South Telescope Network
Solaris Telescope
Robotic Optical Transient Search Experiment – ROTSE
UNSW Automated Patrol Telescope
Faulkes Telescope South
ANU 40 inch Telescope (decommissioned)
ANU 16 inch Telescope (decommissioned)
ANU 24 inch Telescope (decommissioned)

UPDATE (09:50): here is a photo of the destroyed director's cottage at SSO (from NSW RFS).  the structure on the left is/was the astronomer's lodge.  at the top right, you can see the UK schmid telescope and the faulkes south - where the webcams captured a lot of helpful images last night!  you can see the pedestrian path in the foreground leading to the 4m AAT off to the right of the photo.

UPDATE (09:55):  another shot of siding springs from NSW RFS (have i mentioned that they have been amazing and continue to fight the ongoing fire!).  the massive AAT dome looks ok.  the destroyed lodge is visible at left.  still waiting for the "smoke to clear."

we are having a group meeting now to receive official updates on the situation at SSO.  i'll update with what info i can!

UPDATE (10:45):  there will be a two week downtime at siding spring while clean up commences and the full extent of the damage is assessed.   some staff are on site now and reporting no obvious major damage to facilities and instrumentation (other than the housing structures i mentioned before).

a project i work on was scheduled to use the 4 m telescope tonight and for the next 3 nights!   no data for us, but people are safe, and that's important.

observing will resume as soon as possible, when damage is fully assessed and cleaned.

UPDATE (11:05):  the MOPRA telescope structure appears to be fine, but the building from which astronomers operate it has been damaged by the fires.

UPDATE (11:10):  here is the current view of australia from space, thanks to chris hadfield, an astronaut currently on the international space station!!

UPDATE (11:35): here is an aerial shot of the visitor center at siding spring (from NSW RFS).   it doesnt look like there is much structural damage from this photo, but there are black patches outside the main entrance that are likely due to fire damage.  from reports i've heard, there was fire inside that was exstinguished this morning.  i do not know the extent of the damage to the contents, yet.

UPDATE (11:44):  there is a relevant article at the conversation with quotes from my self, nobel laureate brian schmidt, and astronomer michael brown.

UPDATE (12:55):  the ANU will be holding a press conference at 13:15 (link).

UPDATE (13:00):  i'm doing a virtual star party on and off for the next hour.  (link here)

UPDATE (13:40):  fires near coonabarabran continue.  do not return or try to explore area. 

from ANU press statement:

- observatory closed for two weeks.  do not try to visit.
- generators are providing power to essential services, and the switch over was smooth - good to systems which would have glitched if not turned off properly. 
- unclear when roads to siding springs will reopen.
- ANU is assessing alternative accommodation for affected staff

- NSW deputy premier Andrew Stoner reports 28 homes around coonabarabran have been lost
- smoke from "Wambelong Fire" shot 14 km into the air!

UPDATE (13:45): watch ABC news here.  (which includes an interview with AAO acting director, andrew hopkins, with completely blank book shelves behind him!   haha - new office...)

UPDATE (14:49):  just reminiscing a bit about working with the 4m AAT.  at night, we use the telescope and the instruments.  during the days, when we're not sleeping, we climb around enjoying the views.  ::sigh::

double rainbow from the AAT catwalk

from the top of the AAT dome
UPDATE (13:00):  the AAO website has released some new photos of siding spring via the NSW RFS.  it's pretty amazing that the AAT dome looks so clean and there is still a lot of plant life remaining!

Photo of AAT (from AAO and RFS)

UPDATE (15:50): not how i was hoping the telescope would make front page news :(

UPDATE (16:00):   brian schmidt remembers the devastating mt stromlo fires that hit canberra exactly ten years ago this week:  link to article.

UPDATE (16:05):  the MOPRA antenna does not appear to be damaged (visible at the top of the image below), but the support building (with the kitchen, bedrooms, bathroom and small office) is a pile of rubble.  no CSIRO staff can access the site until tomorrow at the earliest.

UPDATE (17:00):  the NSW Rural Fire Service confirmed 33 homes (and 50 sheds) lost due to the "wambelong" fire near coonabarabran and siding spring.  some of these homes belong to people i consider friends.   i'm very sad to report the news.

UPDATE (17:30):  there are still some fires burning in the vicinity of coonabarabran, but the observatory is not under direct threat now.  siding spring observatory is officially closed to everyone unless authorized by the rural fire service (including observatory staff).   therefore all observing is suspended for two weeks (at least) and the full damage assessment is delayed until wednesday (it is currently monday late afternoon SSO local time).   major telescope facilities appear to be ok and communication has been made with several of the computer systems from remote locations.

unless something major develops, i will not update this post anymore, because i have a major deadline tomorrow and i need to concentrate.   THE SCIENCE WILL GO ON, despite the fact that i'm not getting the data from the AAT that i was scheduled to get over the next 4 nights :(   i'll start another post about the situation when i have more info, and the AAO website will keep updated.

as a final reflection, please look at beautiful photos, taken by AAO's angel lopez-sanchez, of SSO between 2007 and 2012:  link HERE.

and finally, a stunning panoramic image taken 4 months ago of the milky way over siding spring and the 4-meter anglo-australian telescope, by AAO's jamie gilbert.

the milky way over siding spring (credit: jamie gilbert)

report of the second day after the fire: SSO - as the smoke clears.