History of the Optical Observatory

Observatory

The optical observatory at the University of Adelaide was built around the 1940s, and the original telescope within the dome was an 8" Thomas Cooke and Sons refractor telescope.

This instrument initially was located at the former South Australian Government Observatory on West Terrace, Adelaide, and dates from the 1870s.

Whilst records for the years preceding the 1970s are scarce, it is known that the observatory was used for student instruction during the 1970s and some of the 1980s. Some project work on photography and photometry was carried out, but results on the former at least were limited, due to the slow focal ratio of the instrument, and difficulties with tracking and guiding during the exposures.

In around 1980, the 8" refractor was replaced by a Celestron C14 14" Schmidt Cassegrain telescope, a considerable improvement over the usability of the former telescope. In 1994, the C14 optics were relocated to the Woomera optical observatory (research continued there until 1998).

Observatory exterior 1971
Observatory exterior, 1971
Refractor
Observatory interior, 1971
C14 Telescope
Current telescope, 2015

In 2002, an 8" Meade LX-200 was installed in the campus observatory, and started to be used with the CCD camera that formerly was in use at Woomera (an SBIG ST-6A with six-position filter wheel). This combination allowed effective observations to be carried out, and some observations of cataclysmic variables were undertaken in collaboration with the Centre for Backyard Astrophysics at Columbia University, New York. Also, student projects on photometry, imaging and basic spectroscopy were started.

By observing the known transiting exoplanet HD209458b, it was found that the telescope was capable of useful data on transiting exoplanets (typical magnitude errors at the milli-magnitude level, 8" telescope, V filter, binned 20-second integrations).

In about 2006, the 8" was replaced by the C14 optics mounted in a larger Meade LX-200 fork mounting, and soon a larger and more efficient SBIG ST-9 CCD camera was bought. Since then, most observations have been of exoplanet host stars. Student work is undertaken, including projects in basic spectroscopy, deep-sky and solar imaging, and photometry.

A Shelyak LHIRES III spectrograph was obtained in June 2018. This instrument allows spectroscopy to be undertaken at a variety of dispersions, from low-dispersion/resolution spectra over (almost) the full visual range of wavelengths, to high-dispersion/resolution spectra over short wavelength ranges (e.g. for individual emission/absorption lines).

This allows a wide range of teaching and research program to be undertaken in spectroscopy, including long-term projects such as monitoring lines in the spectrum of Eta Carinae during its 5.4-year binary orbital period.