The Great Melbourne Telescope at the Melbourne Observatory in Australia was completed in 1869 and reassembled by volunteers and observatory staff to celebrate its 150th anniversary. Once the world’s second-largest and largest in the southern hemisphere, the 48-inch (1.2 m) reflector telescope was severely damaged in the 2003 bushfires and was finally put back into service after 11 years of effort.
The Melbourne Telescope was originally built by Thomas Grubb in Dublin, Ireland, in 1868, and then dismantled and transported to Melbourne for installation in an observatory next to the Royal Botanic Gardens. After appropriate adjustments, it has been used in a variety of research projects.
When the Melbourne Observatory closed in 1944, the telescope was sold to the Australian government at the Stromlo Hill Observatory near Canberra, upgraded with a new 50-inch (1.3 m) Pygex mirror, followed by a new equatorial instrument. In the 1990s, new instruments included computer digital imaging telescopes for studying dark matter.
Unfortunately, the January 2003 bushfiredestroy destroyed the Observatory, leaving the telescope with only a heavy cast iron shelf. In 2008, staff and volunteers at the Victoria Museum discovered the damaged telescope and set out to recover from a joint project at the Victoria Museum, the Victorian Astronomical Society and the Royal Botanic Gardens of Victoria, with a Grant of A$600,000 from Australia.
The restoration required more than 1,000 drawings and more than 500 symposium hours, as well as volunteer hours for 30,000 engineering and astronomy experts. The work involved cleaning and sorting of remaining parts and creating nearly 400 missing parts, which one volunteer claimed was the world record for the largest WD40 required for cleaning.
“We only have 65 percent of the original parts, some historical photos and some technical drawings as a starting point,” says Matthew Churchward, senior engineering curator. It uses materials and manufacturing techniques similar to those of the original products, reaching the specifications of the 1860s. “
Now, their ultimate goal is to reinstall the telescope in the telescope room of the Melbourne Observatory. The next step will be to get A$1.5 million to make the telescope fully functional again and to be at the heart of the new public astronomy programme.
Matilda Vaughan, head of engineering, said: “Our goal is to get the telescope back to working so that the next generation of astronomy enthusiasts can gaze at the spectacular views of the southern sky through their huge eyepieces. “