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Best Observatories and Planetariums in Victoria

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by Gayle Beveridge (subscribe)
Gayle is an accountant. Shh – don’t tell. She thinks she’s a writer.
Published September 16th 2016
Turn Your Eyes To The Skies, The Cosmos Awaits
The night skies have captured our attention for time immemorial. They have inspired myth and legend and remain a wonder for exploration and discovery. The stars are humanity's final frontier and our next great adventure. Public observatories with astronomical telescopes cater for those not content to simply gaze skyward from their own back yard. Planetariums and virtual reality theatres bring the universe to you.

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The Mount Burnett Observatory open for viewing the night skies (Photo from Mount Burnett Observatory Inc. Facebook Page)

1. The Melbourne Observatory in the Royal Botanic Gardens was originally constructed in the 1860's and continued to be expanded into the early 20th century. In its day the observatory was used for weather forecasting and mapping, time setting, setting weights and measures standards and for surveying Victoria. The Great Melbourne Telescope was installed in 1869. Its first job was to conduct a study of the southern nebulae.

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Saturn through the telescope (Photo from Mount Burnett Observatory Inc. Facebook Page)

The Melbourne Observatory closed in 1944 but much of the equipment has been preserved and is still used today to look to the southern skies. Regular observatory night tours are conducted by members of the Astronomical Society of Victoria. The public has the opportunity to watch the roof rotate and open and to view the skies through the telescopes (unless the weather is inclement or the sky overcast). Perhaps you will see Mars or Venus or the rings of Saturn with your own eyes.

Tours run every Monday. To book go to the What's On site or telephone on (03) 9252 2429. Costs (Sept 2016) are Adults $24.00, Children or Concession Holders $20.00 and Families $70.00. The Melbourne Observatory is in the Royal Botanic Gardens in Birdwood Avenue.

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Melbourne Observatory Building and Astrograph House (Photo by Donaldytong (Own work) Public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

2. The Mount Burnett Observatory in the Dandenong Ranges was built by Monash University in 1972. In 2011 it was taken over by Mount Burnett Observatory Inc. and became a community astronomical observatory.

Public viewing nights are run once a month subject to weather. Bookings are required for these popular outings where visitors get to see the observatory, learn what it does and under the tutelage of Outreach workers, view the night sky through the telescopes. Costs (Sept 2016) are Adults $15.00, Concession $10.00 and Children $5.00.

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Milky Way (Photo by Roanish from Australia (Milky Way 01) CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons)

For the keen astronomer membership has a wide range of benefits. Members nights run every Friday from 8pm to late. Members participate in astronomy talks and night sky viewings. In addition members will be invited to periodic special events and will be able to participate in science outreach activities. Membership fees (Sept 2016) are a modest $50.00 per annum for adults and $25.00 for junior or spouse membership.

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The telescope at Mount Burnett Observatory (Photo from Mount Burnett Observatory Inc. Facebook Page)

The Mount Burnett Observatory is at 420 Paternoster Rd, Mount Burnett VIC 3781. For more details check their website or telephone James Murray on 0409 703 929.

3. The Ballarat Municipal Observatory and Museum was opened to the public way back in 1886 and was the first municipal observatory in Australia. Its historic significance is enhanced by its lead light stained glass collection, all of which are astronomically themed.

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Ballarat Municipal Observatory (Photo from Ballarat Observatory Facebook Page)

In addition to a modern telescope and some portable units there are three historic telescopes. The 65cm Baker Great Equatorial Telescope was built at the observatory in 1886. The 20cm Oddie Telescope dates back to 1909 and the 12.5cm Jelbart Telescope was donated to the observatory in 1918.

Visitors to the Ballarat Observatory will learn about the cosmos in the 3D Astrotour theatre and will be able to view the planets and stars through both modern and historic telescopes. The observatory also runs public lectures, school holiday programs and special events.

The Ballarat Municipal Observatory is at the Corner of Cobden and Magpie Street, Mt. Pleasant, Ballarat. Costs (Sept 2016) are Adults $20.00, Concession $15.00, Students $8.00, and Families $45.00. Memberships are available. Opening times vary but may be flexible on demand. Bookings are required and can be made by telephoning (03) 5332 7526 between 4pm and 7pm. For more details check their website.

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Star gazing at Ballarat Observatory (Photo from Ballarat Observatory Facebook Page)

4. The Lake Boga Observatory near Swan Hill has four main telescopes all of which are accessible on flat ground. The evening begins with a presentation about stars, galaxies, planets and nebulae and a video which features images taken by the Hubble Telescope before night sky viewing through the telescopes.

The Lake Boga Observatory and Planetarium is at 236 Murray Valley Highway, Lake Boga just 17kms from Swan Hill. Between April and October tours begin at 7.00pm and between November and March, 8.00pm. Planetarium day tours are by arrangement. Bookings are essential and can be made by telephoning 0400 123 962. Costs (Sept 2016) for the observatory night tours are Adults $15.00, Children under 17, $10.00 and Children under 10, $5.00 and planetarium day tours are Adults $12.00, Children under 17, $10.00 and Children under 10, $5.00. Check the website for more details.

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Away for city lights the skies above Lake Boga beautiful even without the telescope (Photo from Lake Boga Observatory Facebook Page)

An extra bonus at the same address is the Bogartz Glass Studio which features works by local artist John Fowler (your observatory host) who specialises in the art of contemporary slumped glass.

5. The Melbourne Planetarium presents a simulated night sky in a domed room with reclining seats. Planetarium shows change over time but each features a half hour audio visual with an astronomical theme. This is followed by a live presentation of the current night sky pointing out what can be seen so visitors can go home and knowledgably view the skies in their own back yard.

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A Snapshot of the Jewel Box cluster with the ESO VLT (Photo by ESO Y. Beletsky (ESO) CC BY 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons)

The Planetarium is a popular virtual experience particularly for the kids although it doesn't give visitors the opportunity to look through telescopes.

The Melbourne Planetarium is at the Scienceworks Museum at 2 Booker St, Spotswood VIC 3015. Costs vary dependant of the current shows. Click here for ticket details and bookings.

6. The Swinburne Astrophysics and Supercomputing Centre's Virtual Reality Theatre runs public AstroTours during the school holidays. The tours use virtual reality technologies to explore the universe. Professional astronomers host the tours and adapt the outcomes to the requirements of the audience. The shows which last 50 minutes cost (Sept 2106) $10.00. Participants have said the show makes them feel as though they are themselves in space.

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Sunspots (Photo from Ballarat Observatory Facebook Page)

The Swinburne Virtual Reality Theatre is in the AR Building of the Hawthorn Campus of Swinburne University at John Street, Hawthorn, Victoria 3122. Enquiries can be emailed to astrotour@swin.edu.au

7. The Astronomical Society of Victoria was founded in 1922 and invites membership from anybody interested in astronomy regardless of age or ability. The Society runs a busy calendar of events which allow interested members to touch on all aspects of astronomy. Events include field trips, lectures, and practical workshops.

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Great Melbourne Telescope 1880 (Photo by Museum Victoria, Australia - greatmelbournetelescope.org.au - Public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

The Society is divided into Sections which cater to specific interest groups including a Junior Section. Some of the Sections are Astrophotography, Instrument Making, Cosmology and Astrophysics and Deep Sky. Members of the society run the tours at the Melbourne Observatory and tends to the preservation of the Great Melbourne Telescope.

Annual Membership costs (Sept 2016) are Adults $75.00, Concession and Children $55.00. A $20.00 joining fee does not apply to new members under 18 years old.
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Why? Explore humanity's final frontier
When: When you feel like trying something different
Phone: Phone numbers are noted in the article
Where: In Melbourne and around Victoria
Cost: Prices vary but are very reasonably priced for a family outing
Your Comment
The stars and planets are fascinating. These sites will make great entertainment when visited.
by Roger (score: 2|599) 883 days ago
We've been to Ballarat and Sovereign Hill so many times over the years without having any idea there was an observatory there.
by betty (score: 2|486) 883 days ago
Interesting read.
by bahumbug (score: 0|4) 878 days ago
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