ANU Vice-Chancellor and Nobel Prize-winning astrophysicist Brian Schmidt accidentally described the Mt Stromlo Cafe and Visitor Centre as a resource for “interstellar guests” today, distracting attendees at the venue’s re-opening from the glorious views, Questacon-style exhibits and Lonsdale St Roasters coffee, but only for a moment.
The launch today was the final stage in the renewal of the Mount Stromlo site, home to the most advanced space science institution in Australia, after the 2003 Canberra bushfires that destroyed many of the Observatory’s telescopes and historic buildings.
“The Visitor Centre is ultimately a resource for Canberra, but also for the nation, and so, interstellar guests will be …” Professor Schmidt said, having meant to say “interstate”.
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He blushed then moved on to describe the facility as a “showcase for astronomy done across this nation and the work of course that we do at the ANU”.
The Vice-Chancellor, whose Nobel Prize-winning research was conducted from Mount Stromlo, said the centre would become an icon of Canberra culture.
“This is a beautiful place,” he said.
“We do great things here, but this is also a beautiful locale … to share the view of the Murrumbidgee … of the Brindabellas … and what we’re hoping is going to be a great cup of coffee, which we’ve been sadly waiting for for many, many years up here.”
Lonsdale Street Roasters are supplying the beans and overseeing the coffee machine in the Southern Cross Stromlo Cafe, which is, as the name suggests, being operated as an eatery/functions centre/event space by the Southern Cross Club.
What a venue. The views must be among the best in Canberra. A visit to the balcony is will take your breath away. Look out for the kangaroos and birdlife on show below.
Take a walk 100m down the road and step into the atmospheric ruins of the Yale Columbia Telescope destroyed in the 2003 firestorm. The dome is gone and the site will never function as it once did, but you’ll be hard pressed to find a more spectacular place to stop and ponder life, the universe and everything. The acoustics are incredible, too.
With Canberra’s brightly lit suburbs getting ever closer to Mt Stromlo, all night observing is now done at its sister campus Siding Spring, near Coonabarabran in north western NSW, or at advanced telescopes around the world.
Less breathtaking but no doubt a breath of fresh air for the workers and many cyclists who visit is the cafe’s menu, which features pizzas, lasagne, frittata, egg and Pialligo bacon roll, Tassie thick cut chips gourmet sandwiches, panini, baguettes and fresh salads.
Coffee excitement aside, Professor Schmidt believes the centre will help the rest of us to better understand the work the ANU does at Mt Stromlo and Siding Spring.
“People can use real SkyMapper telescope data called Snapshot Supernova to look for exploding stars which we will use to understand the expansion of the Universe and dark energy,” he said.
The centre will immediately land on Canberra families’ weekend outing list with its Questacon-style interactive astronomy exhibits, including one that replicates flying into a wormhole in space (it looks like a trampoline with lots of brightly coloured balls orbiting each other), a seismometer that will register a reading if children stomp hard enough, a series of actual meteorites, a computer game that allows users to destroy space debris orbiting the earth, and a heliostat for observing a live spectrum of the sun (pictured immediately below).
Dr Brad Tucker from ANU Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics said the centre’s exhibits were designed to inspire the next generation of astronomers and astrophysicists.
“Our heliostat, which is a sun mirror rebuilt from one of Mount Stromlo’s first telescopes, will allow people to see sunspots, solar flares and other elements on the Sun,” Dr Tucker said.
“Video animations will recreate black holes and a wormhole near Saturn. The animations were done by Double Negative, known for their work on the film Interstellar. Custom-made animations and video games at the centre show how we are trying to solve the human-made space debris problem.
“We also show how we detect gravitational waves with a small-scale interferometer.”
A new ANU Space App, which people can use at Mount Stromlo and Siding Spring, features animations of some of the exhibits and virtual tours of telescopes at Siding Spring and laboratories at Mount Stromlo.