Siding Spring Observatory is being threatened by a bush fire.
This is definitely not the kind of news that astronomers like reading about… The Siding Spring Observatory in New South Wales, Australia, is currently threatened by a large uncontroled bush fire.
Siding Spring Observatory part of Australian National University (ANU) is home of several telescopes including the Anglo-Australian Telescope (AAT), a 3.9m optical telescope, and the largest one in Australia, but also the 2.0 m Faulkes Telescope South of Las Cumbres Observatory (LCOGT), and the exoplanet finder HAT-south telescope.
Thankfully, the people who worked at the observatory have been evacuated on time (source Peter Verwayen).
Everyone evacuated safely from @sidingspring. Sorry, I had no time for photos but I can say it wasn’t a good place to be!
— Peter Verwayen (@SSOPete) January 13, 2013
These telescopes are equipped with weather stations and webcams, used by astronomers to monitor the weather and check the status of the telescope remotely. It is still possible to follow what is going on at the observatory.
The weather station at AAT displayed a spike reaching ~100 deg C, but it quickly dropped and at the time I am writing these lines, this trend is continuing, so this may be a good news.
The webcams of the Faulkes Telescope at 12:08 PT show that the fire did not reach this telescope.
Since we are still getting data from these instruments, the fire may have not reached these facilities (AAT, Faulkes & HAT). The best way to know what is going on at Siding Spring is to follow Twitter, and the accounts of Michel Bannister (@astrokiwi), Amanda Bauer (@astropixie), Bryan Gaesler (@SciBry) and Brian Schmidt (@Cosmicpinot).
I remember vividly when 10 years ago the Mount Stromlo Observatory (MSO), another Australian Observatory, was devastating by a firestorm, which destroyed most of the telescopes and houses and offices of my colleagues and friends. I sincerely hope this observatory will be spared from the destruction and tomorrow, when the employees will be allowed to come back, they will find only minor damages.
I am keeping my fingers crossed and I wish to all of you clear skies, especially in Australia.