Anglo-australian Telescope Turns 35

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14th October 2009, 03:46pm - Views: 1208

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“Anglo-Australian Telescope turns 35”  page 1 of 2


Helen Sim  +61-(0)2-9372-4251 



14 October, 2009


On Friday 16 October the largest telescope in Australia, and one of the most

productive in the world, will celebrate its 35th birthday.

The 3.9-m Anglo-Australian Telescope (AAT) at Siding Spring Observatory in NSW

lies 25 km from the town of Coonabarabran. 

It was inaugurated on 16 October 1974 by HRH Prince Charles and the then Prime

Minister, Gough Whitlam.

To mark the anniversary, the Anglo-Australian Observatory (which operates the

telescope) will present a sundial to the town at an afternoon ceremony outside the

Coonabarabran Court House.

The gift is to thank Coonabarabran for the efforts it and other nearby towns have

made to control light pollution in the area around Siding Spring Observatory.

“This is crucially important for the work of the AAT and other telescopes at Siding

Spring,” said Professor Fred Watson, Astronomer in Charge at the AAT.

“Without it, our research would suffer, because light pollution hides the faint objects

in space.”

The AAT was created to provide world-class optical and infrared observing facilities

for all Australian and UK astronomers.

At the time it was built there were few large telescopes in the Southern Hemisphere

and the southern sky was relatively unexplored. The AAT was the largest telescope

that British and Australian astronomers had access to. 

It was the first large telescope to be operated completely under computer control,

and the first to make spectacular colour photographs of objects in the southern sky.

“Anglo-Australian Telescope turns 35”  page 2 of 2

Thanks to ongoing technical innovations, the AAT remains one of the world's most

productive telescopes. It is the first-ranked 4-metre telescope in the world, in both

productivity and impact, achieving more than twice as many citations as its nearest

competitor. Among optical telescopes of any size, on the ground or in space, the AAT

is ranked fifth in productivity and impact

The telescope’s achievements include finding 25 planets around other stars; helping

to determine the cause of the giant cosmic explosions called gamma-ray bursts; and

making precise measurements of the amounts of “dark energy” and “dark matter” in

the Universe. 

On 1 July 2010 the Anglo-Australian Observatory will shed its bi-national status and

become a wholly Australian institution, the “Australian Astronomical Observatory”,

managed by the Commonwealth Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and


“The Australian Government has given a strong vote of confidence to the AAT,

backing it to have a productive future and a continuing central role in Australian

astronomy,” Professor Colless said.

More information

Professor Fred Watson, Astronomer in Charge at the AAT

Mob. 042 089 7860

Can talk on history, scientific achievements and touching on the future of the AAO. 

Mr Chris McCowage Former AAO Operations Manager

02 6842 2119   Mob. 0428 422119

Long-term AAO employee. Has a good knowledge of AAO history and context. 

Mr Robert Dean, AAO Telescope Systems Manager

02 6842 6291   Mob. 0407 422096 

Long-serving AAO staff member who played a role in the official proceedings. Rob can relate

the preparations for and events on the day of the inauguration 

Images – the inauguration

Prince Charles addresses the audience at the inauguration. Photo: AAO (Jpeg 2.1 MB)

Prince Charles is greeted by Minister for Science W. L. Morrison on arriving at the

Observatory. Photo: AAO (Jpeg 5.3 MB)

Chairman of the AAT Board, Sir Fred Hoyle, presents Prince Charles with a gift at the

inauguration, with Prime Minister Gough Whitlam looking on. Photo: AAO (Jpeg 5.5 MB)

Images – the AAT today

The AAT – interior panoramic view. (Jpeg 6.1 MB)

The dome of the AAT. Photo: Barnaby Norris. (Jpeg 1.8 MB)

The AAT. Photo: Barnaby Norris. (Portrait format; jpeg 2.9 MB)

Timeline of AAT achievements


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