Great Melbourne Telescope
In 1869, the largest fully-steerable telescope the world had ever seen was installed at the Melbourne Observatory.
Known as the Great Melbourne Telescope, the device boasted a reflector of 122 centimetres (48 inches).
The decision to commission the Great Melbourne Telescope reflected the wealth and confidence of Melbourne and the colony of Victoria in the 1850s and 1860s.
In turn, the Great Melbourne Telescope came to represent Melbourne's 'greatness' to its citizens. Engravings of the telescope appeared in newspapers and magazines in Britain, Europe and America, projecting Melbourne's confidence abroad.
The Great Melbourne Telescope (GMT) was built by Thomas Grubb of Dublin in 1868 and erected at Melbourne Observatory in 1869. It was a reflecting telescope with a speculum (metal) mirror of 48 inches (1.2 metres) diameter. At the time it was the second largest telescope in the world and the largest in the southern hemisphere.
When Melbourne Observatory closed in 1944, the telescope was sold to the Commonwealth Observatory at Mount Stromlo, Canberra. At Mount Stromlo the telescope was given a new 50-inch glass mirror made by Grubb-Parsons, and became an integral part of Mt Stromlo's work from 1961 into the 1970s.
In the 1990s the telescope was rebuilt with two large-scale digital cameras for the MACHO project, a search for evidence of dark matter. Our first ever glimpse of MAssive Compact Halo Objects was through the GMT. Then in January 2003 a bushfire swept across Mt Stromlo, its firestorm destroying the majority of the telescopes and buildings.
Great Melbourne Telescope project
The goal of the Great Melbourne Telescope project is to restore the telescope to working order so that it may be used for educational and public viewing.
Relocated to Canberra in 1944, it was heavily modified for modern astronomy. The 2003 Canberra bushfires destroyed the modern equipment, but left the original parts relatively unscathed.
The original parts of the telescope have now been returned to Melbourne. About 90 percent of the original telescope has survived.
The project to restore the telescope and reinstate it in its original building at the former Melbourne Observatory site is being coordinated by three project partners:
Astronomical Society of Victoria
Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria
The project partners are now testing the technical and financial aspects of the project. This includes assessing the best approaches to restoration of the telescope, assessment of the original building, and development of a business and operational plan for the telescope.
The original house built for the GMT remains on the former Melbourne Observatory site, and is managed by the Royal Botanic Gardens, Melbourne.
When Melbourne Observatory closed in 1944 and the GMT was shipped to Mount Stromlo, the GMT House was taken over by the Victorian government's Weights and Measures Branch. Several changes have occurred to the building since 1944. The original bluestone telescope piers were removed, the photographic stage at the north end was dismantled, and other rooms and structures were added to the building.
The Royal Botanic Gardens has commissioned a condition assessment and restoration plan for the building by conservation architects Lovell Chen. Their report shows that the building is structurally sound and that there are no major impediments to restoring the building. The major tasks will be to reinstate the telescope piers, remove some later additions, enable the roll-off roof to once more operate, and to reinstate the photographic stage.
The GMT is at MV's store, which is a secured facility, so there is no opportunity for public viewing. It is hoped that the GMT may be back at the RBG and available for the public to look through it in 2019---the 150th anniversary of its installation. When that happy day arrives it will be one of the biggest telescopes in the world dedicated to public viewing.
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