Tuesday, January 21, 2003

Disaster

MOUNT STROMLO OBSERVATORY DESTROYED BY FIRE

The Australian National University expresses concern and sympathy to those who have lost so much in the Canberra fires.

In particular, our thoughts are with the families of those that died in the fires.

The Mount Stromlo Observatory has been largely destroyed by the bushfires which have ravaged Canberra.

"We are thankful that no staff or students were injured in the Mount Stromlo fire." ANU Vice-Chancellor Professor Ian Chubb said today.

The Observatory, operated by the ANU Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics, is one of Australia's leading centres of Astronomical research. The fires destroyed four telescopes, the equipment workshop, eight houses which had been occupied by staff and an administration building. Preliminary estimates have valued the losses at more than $20 million.

Two office buildings and the visitors centre were spared -- importantly, preserving most of the computer data generated on site in recent years.

Professor Chubb emphasised that the work of the Research School would continue.

"The loss of Mount Stromlo is a devastating blow to Australian research and in particular to the 60 staff and 20 students who made it their workplace.

"To those staff who also lost homes on Mount Stromlo, these fires have delivered a double blow.

"It is vital to emphasise that the work of the Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics will continue, however. The University has adequate workshop and laboratory facilities to accommodate the valuable equipment contracts which are being fulfilled by the school -- including the $6.3 million contract to build a sharp-eyed imager for the Gemini South Telescope in Chile.

"Other research projects have been undeniably set back by this loss, although we are still evaluating the full extent of the damage.

"Plans are already being put in place to rebuild at Mount Stromlo and restore the Research School to its full capacity.

"The fires have been a devastating blow to Canberra and the ANU is committed to helping rebuild the lives of those affected."

The Director of the Research School, Professor Penny Sackett, said, "Our losses are presently overwhelming and the scene of Mount Stromlo is one of devastation, but we have retained our most valuable asset, our staff, 100 per cent intact and we are extremely grateful for their safety."

"We have also saved our computer database and many of us will be back at work tomorrow."

More information on the destroyed telescopes is available.

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