There’s a stellar celebration taking place at Mount Pleasant as the Ballarat Astronomical Society and Ballarat Municipal Observatory celebrates a triplet of anniversaries.
The society itself will mark 60 years, the Jelbart Telescope is notching up 100 years and the Baker Telescope, one of the oldest telescopes in Australia, is turning 130.
All 13 of the observatory’s telescopes are used regularly, something that manager Judith Bailey said was uncommon particularly with the older machines.
“All of our telescopes are still in working order, even the oldest ones,” Ms Bailey said.
“Most telescopes of this age in other observatories are not used now. We are very fortunate in Ballarat to have had a society who has taken on the role where others might have relinquished those telescopes or observatories and not cared for them as much,” she said.
Ahead of celebrations this weekend, the 130-year-old Baker Great Equatorial Telescope, named after its builder and the first observatory manager Captain Henry Baker, received a new viewing platform.
Society members and night sky fans will celebrate the triple anniversary on Saturday with a roving dinner, a series of talks and, of course, viewing of the night sky.
Ms Bailey said astronomy was still incredibly popular, and a close-up look at other parts of the solar system continued to inspire awe.
“There’s a lot of people out there who want to participate, even in their own backyards – much more so now than there used to be,” she said. “Especially with the internet, people can get educated more easily about things they are interested in.”
The observatory hosts large numbers of school visits and community groups and regularly holds functions, movies and public viewing nights, particularly when there is an astronomical event of wider interest.
It was a public viewing night, similar to those the BAS holds now, that led to Ms Bailey’s involvement with the observatory.
“I first joined in 1985 with my family and I got hooked when I saw Saturn through the Jelbart telescope,” she said.
Over the years the society has added buildings and facilities to the observatory, including moving a house from Eureka Park to the site, upgrading the radio telescope with a NASA kit, and ensuring all telescopes remain in working condition.
The society built and opened a telescope with access for disabled people to view through – the first of its kind in Australia, in 2001.
“Over 60 years the Ballarat Astronomical Society has made an incredibly valuable contribution to the cultural life of Ballarat and regional areas,” she said.
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