The Australian Astronomical Observatory (AAO), formerly the Anglo-Australian Observatory, is an optical/near-infrared astronomy observatory with its headquarters in suburban Sydney, Australia. Originally funded jointly by the United Kingdom and Australian governments, it is now managed wholly by Australia's Department of Industry, Innovation, Science, Research and Tertiary Education . The AAO operates the 3.9 metre Anglo-Australian Telescope (AAT) and 1.2 metre UK Schmidt Telescope (UKST) at Siding Spring Observatory, located near the town of Coonabarabran, Australia.
In addition to operating the two telescopes, AAO staff carry out astronomical research, as well as design and build innovative astronomical instrumentation for the AAT, UKST, and other telescopes including the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope in Chile, and the Japanese Subaru Telescope on Mauna Kea in Hawaii. UK involvement in the AAO ceased in June 2010, with the change of name and management arrangements effective from 1 July 2010.
Construction of the Anglo-Australian Telescope:
In late-1967 the contract for the primary mirror blank was awarded to Owens-Illinois Inc., USA and the 27.5 ton structure was cast from zero-expansion Cervit glass in April 1969. The blank was shipped to Newcastle-upon-Tyne, England to be figured and polished by Sir Howard Grubb, Parsons and Co. Ltd. The final product has a diameter of 3.9m and a focal length of 12.7m.
Construction of the building and dome, undertaken by the Australian companies Leighton Constructions and Evans-Deakin Industries respectively, began in late-1970 and was completed by the end of 1972. The building was manufactured from concrete, stands 26m high and has seven floors housing offices, labs and a mirror aluminising chamber. The telescope stands on a concrete pier with is a separate foundation to the main building, to reduce the risk of vibrations. The double skinned dome is manufactured from both steel and aluminium and weighs 570 tonnes.
The telescope is mounted equatorially, loosely following the design of the 4m Kitt Peak National Observatory telescope. The mount was manufactured in Muroran, Japan by Mitsubishi Electric. It was shipped to Australia in early 1973 before being assembled at Siding Spring Mountain in April of that year. The telescope drive system was also produced by Mitsubishi Electric and delivered at this time. It was one of the first to be controlled by computer, an Interdata Model 70, and provided new levels of pointing and tracking precision. Assembly of the AAT was completed by 1974 and commissioning of the telescope began in April of that year. In total it took approximately 8 years to build at a cost of A$16 million. It was inaugurated by HRH Prince Charles on 16 October 1974 and went into general use in June 1975.
The Schmidt Telescope:
The 1.2m Schmidt telescope was built to complement the AAT and officially began operations in August 1973. It was designed for survey astronomy, having an extremely large field-of-view which is more than 12 times the apparent diameter of the moon. The telescope was operated by the Schmidt Telescope Unit of the Royal Observatory, Edinburgh until 1988, when it was agreed that control would be handed over to the AAO. The Schmidt has undertaken much notable work, including blue and red photographic surveys of the southern sky and the 6dF Galaxy Survey. Its multi-object spectroscopic capability is currently being exploited to perform the Radial Velocity Experiment (RAVE) survey.
Anglo-Australian Telescope - 3.9 m reflector
UK Schmidt Telescope - 1.2 m reflector