Wednesday, 6 April 2016

#78 - Sydney Observatory

Sydney Observatory was surprising in a couple of ways.  Firstly it was a lot more enjoyable than I had imagined, and secondly, because the highlight of our guided tour was the laser pointer that the guide used to point out the stars in the night sky outside of the observatory.  That sounds ridiculous, but this laser was incredible.  He was able to pick out individual stars, and you could see the laser beam crystal clear so far that it felt like it was actually reaching the star.

Apparently you need a special licence to be able to buy the lasers, because they are so powerful.  Of course, he could have just made that up, but he seemed like a trustworthy kind of a fellow, so I'm sure he was completely genuine.  I know you think I'm making an undue fuss over what is essentially just a high powered version of the crappy little laser pointers that university lecturers like to use, but honestly, when he first used the laser, the whole crowd of 20 or so people on the tour literally gasped.  Incredible stuff.

It's not just the stars that are worth observing from Observatory Hill
Aside from the incredible laser, Sydney Observatory has a few other things going for it.  It is in a pretty nice location, at the top of the aptly named Observatory Hill.  This is pretty close to the CBD, although it can be a bit tricky to find through some of the hills and windy roads in the Rocks.  It's a nice spot to look out over the harbour, including the Harbour Bridge, and it's a nice place to watch the sunset, which many people do.  This isn't actually part of the Observatory, so it is maybe a bit unfair to give it plus points for this.

Inside the Observatory wasn't exactly run with super efficient, military-like precision, but I don't mean that in a bad way.  It had that kind of laid back, university vibe to it.  We wandered around the visitor area looking at various telescopes and astronomical (if that is the correct adjective to use) equipment, before being gathered and assigned a tour guide to take us to the main observatory.

This was before we did the photography tour, ok?
This was quite cool, and is the kind of dome shaped building you can see perched at the top of Observatory Hill.  Inside is unsurprisingly like the inside of a dome, which makes sound travel really strangely.  We could quite clearly hear the people on the  opposite side of the dome whispering to each other, but struggled hear the guide who was much closer, talking at normal volume.  So be careful what you are saying about your fellow visitors if you do go on the tour...

The guide then hit a button, and the roof of the dome literally split open down the middle, which again, was pretty cool.  He spent a bit of time talking about stars, planets, constellations - generally the type of stuff you would expect the guide of a tour of an observatory to talk about.  Then we got to look through a high powered telescope to look and some cool stuff - Jupiter, Saturn and some distant galaxies.  Or Constellations.  Or something - I can't really remember and don't want to sound like I'm lying here.  We definitely saw Jupiter and Saturn though.  The guide was quite excited about Saturn in particular, because three of its moons were passing in front of it, which is quite rare, so we were told.

Now, the guide did explain this to us before we looked through the telescope, but just to manage expectations, it's not like looking at a giant projection of Saturn.  It's not even like looking at a small drawing of Saturn.  Even through the telescope, what you see is a tiny pin prick that looks exactly like Saturn, assuming you believe the pictures in your school textbooks were true.  It's a very clear tiny image, but definitely a tiny image all the same.  If I didn't know I was looking for Saturn, I'm not even sure I would have known it was there.  Luckily the guide was there to tell me exactly what I was looking for.

Finally, we headed outside to be shown some of the stars and constellations that you can see with the naked eye in the Sydney sky (I'm a poet, but I don't know it).  This was when the guide produced the much lauded laser which I briefly touched on at the start of this.  In case I didn't mention, it was amazing.

Despite relatively low expectations, we really enjoyed the night tour at the Sydney Observatory.  It is obviously weather dependent, but if you some free time and the sky is clear, you could do a lot worse than watch the sunset at Observatory Hill, followed by the night tour at the Sydney Observatory.

Have you seen the guide's laser?  Can you confirm just how frickin' awesome it is?  Leave a comment to prove I'm not just imagining how cool it was

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