We didn't do a lot - not much excitement unless you count taking turns to launch Kerbals into orbit. On Wednesday we toured the Solar System starting at Pluto/Dubbo, and travelling along the Newell Highway, only pausing so thefoxaroo could take photos of Neptune (Gilgandra), Uranus (Tooraweenah Road intersection), and Saturn (Outside Coonabarrabran).
It was almost mid-day so we dropped into the Baronia Cafe in Coonabarrabran to buy lunch. thefoxaroo had 2 gluten-free cheese and tomato sandwiches, and could have eaten more. I had an eggandbacon sandwich, which contained one egg and an entire week's worth of bacon onna bun. I mean, seriously huge amounts of bacon. The bacon layer was about 20mm thick in the middle. I washed it down with a nice hot cup of tea.
And then Onward! To the Inner Solar System! Jupiter was 15km out of town on the road to the Warrumbungles. Mars is just at the Siding Spring turn-off, on the inside of a bend. You come across and pass Mars suddenly, without warning, but with a lot of "Bugger! Missed Mars! Damn." And so up to the Siding Spring Observatory. Earth is not far from the turn-off. Venus is a few kilometres along the narrow road, and Mercury is a few kilometres beyond that. Then you go through a gate, and into the car park.
There is no entry fee, which is nice. You walk through the cafe (Sidebar: The cafe at the Parkes telescope is awesome The Siding Spring cafe is Not Terribly Good) and up the hill to the telescope.
There was Art beside the footpath!
thefoxaroo and I stood on the public viewing room and looked up at the 3.9m telescope through the thick glass. The work crew were doing maintenance, so the scope and dome periodically moved. Then there was a pause, and one of the work guys came into the viewing room through the No Public Access door. He was Glenn Z the Safety Officer, and explained they were replacing some of the worn bogies the 590 tonne dome rotated on. He did an astronomical info dump on us, which explained a lot of stuff but I can't remember it all at once. Glenn Z the Safety Officer took a call on the radio, and vanished back through the door. We watched them lift and move a bogie into postition for the crane to pick up. Then there was a long pause. Glenn Z the Safety Officer opened the No Public Access door, and asked if we would like to go through for a tour.
Seriously? He asked? Mate, we are nerds! OF COURSE WE WOULD LIKE AN UNOFFICIAL GUIDED TOUR thankyouverrymuch, ifyoudon'tmind.
So, we donned hard-hats and entered the area the public rarely sees.
thefoxaroo (blue hat) and Glenn Z the Safety Officer (white hat) looking at the telescope controls. This room is a few floors above the public areas.
What the astronomers see
(Left to right) Screen showing the placement of fibre optics so they can take the specra of up to 800 stars at once, screen showing one spectrum, screen showing calibration white noise. Astronomers used to sit in the telescope to do their observations, but fibre optics and CCD technology and Hubble Space Telescope means they no longer have to, and HST takes photos the astronomers can only dream of. Even So...
And up a few more floors. We were now 4 floors above the public area, standing inside the dome.
The black stripes are cables connecting to the crane which lifts instrument modules and equipment for the telescope.
Then we went outside the dome, and made our way around the walkway. 9 stories above the ground. On mesh.
The view from the dome, looking South
Some of the other 40 telescopes on site.
The brown thing is a water tower.
Telescopes and Warrumbungle Range.
Schmidt 6 degree FOV telescope (round dome) and Google Telescope (clam-shell dome). The Google University astronomy course logs in to use this telescope remotely because it's night here when it's day in LA.
I am now going to cause you to spend lots of money: iTelescope internet connected public use remote access telescopes. These are mounted in a building near the Google and Schmidt telescopes.
And so, after an amazing tour, we headed back down to the car. I took thefoxaroo a little way in to Warrumbungle National Park to see kangaroos and wallabies. Then we headed home, pausing to see Mars, and some rock formations.
Hey! I can see my car from here!
All these photos can be seen on my Flickr stream if you wish to embiggen them.