We left Gibraltar National park and made good time heading south west. Our eventual goal was Broken Hill, a town on the edge of the outback and about as far out as you can go in New South Wales without needing to stock up on extra fuel.
We have been playing it by ear each day so that we can take advantage of how the day presents itself. This day we decided to head towards Wurrambunga National Park, which put us about 1/3rd of the way to Broken Hill. On the way there, we realized how amazing the stars had been the night before, and started looking for an observatory. It turns out the astronomy capital of Australia was where we were already heading! We called up and booked a night with an astronomer named, no kidding, Peter Starr.
As we arrived to town, we went up to the research telescope on the hill. It is massive. We arrived just after it closed, but the gift shop lady told us we could try. The door on the observatory wasn’t properly latched, so we went in, and took the elevator up. The visitors gallery was absolutely pitch black upon arrival, and more than a little creepy. Outside we got some photos, then headed down the hill for camp. This park had good facilities, so we made dinner, then took showers before going to Peter’s house in town. On the way there, a kangaroo jumped out of the bush and came about a foot away from committing suicide on our van. Adrenalin rush.
Peter used to manage the large research observatory, and now runs his own at his home. He has a large computer controlled telescope observatory of his own, then leases out four remote operated observatories to people from all over the world. One of the owners, Terry, was in from the UK setting up a new camera on his and spent the the evening talking to us about his work. He observes galaxies that are colliding!
Peter’s research focuses on variable stars — stars that have variable light patterns, either from planets passing in front of them, or because they are getting hotter or brighter rapidly, or because they orbit other stars.
We got a chance to look at Saturn, and several globular clusters, as well a dead star and some nebulas. It was incredible and we definitely geeked out for a while.