Keen stargazers are over the moon following the launch of a new astronomical observatory in Nowra.
The skies cleared offering a fabulous view of the cosmos for all those who attended the official opening of the Shoalhaven Astronomers observatory at Wollongong University’s West Nowra campus last night (6 September).
The facility is a first for the Shoalhaven and is expected to launch increased interest from fledgling stargazers from across the South Coast.
Amateur astronomer John Gould said the state-of-the-art observatory would provide opportunities for visual observing and education in the region.
He said the Shoalhaven Astronomers had worked tirelessly for the last two years to establish the observatory in an effort to foster a deeper understanding and appreciation of the universe for members and the general community.
“It will allow Shoalhaven Astronomers to improve its ability to showcase the astronomical wonders of the universe to the community by beaming images of major astronomical events to the safe and comfortable environment of a lecture theatre,” Mr Gould said.
“This occasion marks a milestone in the scientific landscape of the region and opens avenues for research, education and public engagement with astronomy.”
Mr Gould has had a lifelong interest in astronomy, but since retiring, he has spent much more time gazing into the night sky.
“It’s amazing what you can see up there if you have the right equipment and know where to look,” he said.
“We’re very lucky here because our site is dark without the light pollution you get in the city.
“Most people don’t realise in the southern hemisphere, we have a wealth of wonderful objects to see in the night sky compared to the northern hemisphere.”
The Shoalhaven Astronomers received a $60,000 Stronger Communities grant in 2021 that was used to construct the observatory that is 3.5 metres in diametre and can hold up to 10 people at any one time.
The building houses a powerful 14-inch reflector telescope and a 4-inch refractor telescope, which Mr Gould said was “really great for astrophotography”. Both telescopes have tracking mounts that counter the rotation of the earth.
The club meets on the third Friday of each month and welcomes new members.
The members usually enjoy a lecture before taking a telescope out into the field, but now that they have access to the observatory, interest is expected to skyrocket, especially when there is a significant event such as a lunar eclipse or meteor shower.
Mr Gould said observing Jupiter and Saturn through a telescope was incredible, as was viewing star clusters and nebulae – giant clouds of dust and gas.
“There’s any number of great things to see at any time,” he said.
“Saturn is always a hit with the public and seeing it for the first time is amazing. Saturn will be rising very shortly and it will be great to see in the next few years because it’s moving on its plane, and in another decade you won’t be able to see the rings.”
During the opening event, guests had an opportunity to explore the observatory and witness its impressive equipment, including the telescopes and its advanced imaging and computer control functionalities.
Check out the Shoalhaven Astronomers’ website for upcoming events or to enquire about visiting the observatory.