The Anglo-Australian Telescope turns 35

On Friday 16 October the largest telescope in Australia, and one of the most productive in the world, will celebrate its 35th birthday.
The 3.9-m Anglo-Australian Telescope (AAT) at Siding Spring Observatory in NSW lies 25 km from the town of Coonabarabran.
It was inaugurated on 16 October 1974 by HRH Prince Charles and the then Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam.
To mark the anniversary, the Anglo-Australian Observatory (which operates the telescope) will present a sundial to the town at an afternoon ceremony outside the Coonabarabran Court House.
The gift is to thank Coonabarabran for the efforts it and other nearby towns have made to control light pollution in the area around Siding Spring Observatory.
“This is crucially important for the work of the AAT and other telescopes at Siding Spring,” said Professor Fred Watson, Astronomer in Charge at the AAT.
“Without it, our research would suffer, because light pollution hides the faint objects in space.”
The AAT was created to provide world-class optical and infrared observing facilities for all Australian and UK astronomers.
At the time it was built there were few large telescopes in the Southern Hemisphere and the southern sky was relatively unexplored. The AAT was the largest telescope that British and Australian astronomers had access to.
It was the first large telescope to be operated completely under computer control, and the first to make spectacular colour photographs of objects in the southern sky.
Thanks to ongoing technical innovations, the AAT remains one of the world's most productive telescopes. It is the first-ranked 4-metre telescope in the world, in both productivity and impact, achieving more than twice as many citations as its nearest competitor. Among optical telescopes of any size, on the ground or in space, the AAT is ranked fifth in productivity and impact.
The telescope’s achievements include finding 25 planets around other stars; helping to determine the cause of the giant cosmic explosions called gamma-ray bursts; and making precise measurements of the amounts of “dark energy” and “dark matter” in the Universe.
On 1 July 2010 the Anglo-Australian Observatory will shed its bi-national status and become a wholly Australian institution, the “Australian Astronomical Observatory”, managed by the Commonwealth Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research.
“The Australian Government has given a strong vote of confidence to the AAT, backing it to have a productive future and a continuing central role in Australian astronomy,” Professor Colless said.

More information

Professor Fred Watson, Astronomer in Charge at the AAT
Mob. 042 089 7860
Can talk on history, scientific achievements and touching on the future of the AAO.

Mr Chris McCowage, former AAO Operations Manager
02 6842 2119 Mob. 0428 422119
Long-term AAO employee. Has a good knowledge of AAO history and context.

Mr Robert Dean, AAO Telescope Systems Manager
02 6842 6291 Mob. 0407 422096
Long-serving AAO staff member who played a role in the official proceedings. Rob can relate the preparations for and events on the day of the inauguration


Professor Dick Hunstead, reseacher at the University of Sydney
02 9351 3871
Has used the AAT since 1975.

Images: the inauguration

His Royal Highness Prince Charles addresses the audience at the inauguration of the Anglo-Australian Telescope on 16 October 1974. Photo: AAO (Jpeg 2.1 MB)
The event was held on the main floor of the telescope.
Present on the dais are, from Charles' right to Charles' left, are:
- the first AAO Director, Professor Joe Wampler
- the Minister for Science, the Honourable W.L. Morrison, MP
- the Governor of South Australia, Sir Mark Oliphant
- HRH Prince Charles
- the Chairman of the AAT Board, Sir Fred Hoyle
- the Prime Minister, E.G. Whitlam
- the British High Commissioner, Sir Morrice James
- the NSW Minister for Health, the Hon. J.L. Waddy, MP, representing the Premier of NSW

Prince Charles is greeted by Minister for Science W. L. Morrison on arriving at the Observatory. Photo: AAO (Jpeg 5.3 MB)

Chairman of the AAT Board, Sir Fred Hoyle, presents Prince Charles with a gift at the inauguration, with Prime Minister Gough Whitlam looking on. Photo: AAO (Jpeg 5.5 MB)


Images: the AAT today

The AAT ­ interior panoramic view. (Jpeg 6.1 MB)

The dome of the AAT. Photo: Barnaby Norris. (Jpeg 1.8 MB)

The AAT. Photo: Barnaby Norris. (Portrait format; jpeg 2.9 MB)


Timeline of AAT achievements


AAT video overview - Quicktime movie, 24 MB


AAO overview (text), with AAT facts and figures