Great Melbourne Telescope
The telescope had a 48-inch-diameter (1,200 mm) speculum primary mirror, and was mounted on an equatorial mounting, enabling it to track the stars accurately as they appeared to move across the sky. The design had been approved by a committee of leading British astronomers and scientists. At the time of commissioning it was the second largest telescope operating in the world, after Lord Rosse’s 6 foot reflector at Birr, Ireland, and it was the largest fully steerable telescope in the world.[note 1]
The telescope was designed to explore the nebulae visible from the southern hemisphere, and in particular to document whether any changes had occurred in the nebulae since they were charted by John Herschel in the 1830s at the Cape of Good Hope.
After some initial teething problems, the telescope was used for about 20 years at Melbourne Observatory, and one volume of observations produced, along with spectroscopic observations and some pioneering attempts at photographing nebulae. The telescope was upgraded with the addition of photographic equipment in 1872, but the difficulties of repolishing the mirror and the telescope’s relative unsuitability for photography deterred further use.
When Melbourne Observatory closed in 1945, the Great Melbourne Telescope was sold to the Australian Government’s Mount Stromlo Observatory near Canberra. It was rebuilt in the late 1950s with modern drive and a new 50-inch (1,300 mm) pyrex mirror. In the early 1990s the telescope, still utilising Grubb’s original equatorial mounting, was rebuilt with two CCD arrays to detect MACHOs (massive astrophysical compact halo objects).
In 2003 a bushfire destroyed the telescopes and buildings at Mount Stromlo - the temperatures were so high that the aluminium dome itself caught fire and melted onto the telescope, shattering the Pyrex mirror. The fire-ravaged remnants of the 50-inch telescope were transferred to Museum Victoria, which had previously acquired discarded parts of the original telescope in 1984.
A project is now underway to restore the Great Melbourne Telescope to working order so that it may be used for educational and public viewing in its original home at the Melbourne Observatory. This is a joint undertaking of Museum Victoria, the Astronomical Society of Victoria and the Royal Botanic Gardens. The restoration project will incorporate bringing the telescope's optical, mechanical and electrical systems into line with current best practice. After more than five years weighing up different proposals, engineering work commenced in late 2013 thanks to a $70,000 grant from the Copland Foundation.
|1849||The British Association for the Advancement of Science calls for a large reflecting telescope to be erected in the Southern Hemisphere.|
|1853||First astronomical observatory at Williamstown.|
|1863||Melbourne Observatory opens.|
|1865||The Victorian Government orders the telescope from Thomas Grubb, Dublin.|
|1868||Great Melbourne Telescope (GMT) arrives in Melbourne.|
|1869||Observations of nebulae, comet and Neptune are made.|
|1872||The telescope was upgraded with the addition of photographic equipment|
|1883||First photos taken of Orion Nebula from Southern Hemisphere.|
|1894||GMT used for sketches of Mars at its close approach to Earth.|
|1944||Melbourne Observatory closes.|
|1945||GMT moves to Mount Stromlo Observatory near Canberra.|
|1961||Telescope rebuilt with a 1.25m pyrex mirror and new controls. Used for photoelectric photometry and infrared observations.|
|1973||Decommissioned when a bearing fails.|
|1992||GMT rebuilt for the MACHO project to detect evidence of dark matter.|
|2003||Bushfires destroy major telescopes and buildings at Mount Stromlo.|
|2008||Remaining parts of GMT returned to Melbourne.|
|2009||SkyMapper a telecope built to replace GMT opened at Siding Spring Observatory.|
|2012||Museum Victoria, the Astronomical Society of Victoria and the Royal Botanic Gardens start a collaboration to restore the telescope at Melbourne Observatory.|
- Herschel's 49.5 inch and Lassell's 48 inch reflectors were no longer in use by 1869; see List of largest optical telescopes historically.
- Gillespie, R. (2011). The Great Melbourne Telescope, Melbourne: Museum Victoria Publishing
- Gascoigne, S. C. B. (1995). 'The Great Melbourne Telescope and other 19th century reflectors', Historical Records of Australian Science, 10: 223-45
- Glass, I. S. (1997). Victorian Telescope Makers: The Lives and Letters of Thomas & Howard Grubb, Bristol: Institute of Physics.
- Robinson, T. R. & Grubb, Thomas. (1869). 'Description of the Great Melbourne Telescope,' Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, 159: 127-161.
- Melbourne Observatory. (1885). Observations of the Southern Nebulae made with the Great Melbourne Telescope from 1869 to 1885, Part 1, Melbourne: Government Printer.
- "Great Melbourne Telescope". Herald Sun (Melbourne). 21 February 2012. p. 53.
- Gillespie, Richard. (2009). The Great Melbourne Telescope: A Contextual History. In 400 Years of Astronomical Telescopes, Bernhard R. Brandl, Remko Stuik & J.K. Katgert-Merkelijn, eds, Springer.
- Frame, Tom & Faulkner, Don. (2003). Stromlo: An Australian Observatory. Crows Nest: Allen & Unwin,114-116, 222-230.
- "Recovering the Telescope". Great Melbourne Telescope Restoration Project. Retrieved 10 July 2014.
- "Great Melbourne Telescope". Museum Victoria. Retrieved 30 July 2014.
- Mulcaster, Glenn (21 February 2012). "Great Melbourne Telescope to see night again". The Age (Fairfax Media). Retrieved 7 July 2014.
- Money, Lawrence (15 January 2014). "Rebuilding the Great Melbourne Telescope has universal appeal". Sydney Morning Herald (Fairfax Media). Retrieved 8 July 2014.
- Gillespie, Richard. "Engineering Work Begins". The Great Melbourne Telescope. Retrieved 8 July 2014.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Great Melbourne Telescope.|
- Great Melbourne Telescope Restoration Project Web site
- Melbourne Observatory