A constellation of stars against a black backdrop of the universe. Photo: Shoalhaven Astronomers

Shoalhaven astronomers look to the stars

Shoalhaven astronomers look to the stars

New observatory at West Nowra enables the community to experience the wonders of the galaxy

A new observatory was officially opened at the University of Wollongong’s Shoalhaven campus yesterday (Wednesday 6 September), enabling local astronomers to examine the wonders of the universe without having to travel far.

The brainchild of the community-based Shoalhaven Astronomers, the new observatory has been constructed at the West Nowra site, with the aim of drawing fledgling stargazers from across the region.

UOW Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Vice-President (Strategy and Assurance) Professor Sean Brawley and UOW Shoalhaven Campus Manager Chris Hadley were joined by Member for Kiama Gareth Ward MP, and Shoalhaven City Council Deputy Mayor Paul Ell at the launch.

Professor Nicholas Jones and Professor Michael Lerch, from UOW’s School of Physics, who plan to use the new observatory, were also in attendance, as well as members of the Shoalhaven Astronomers and wider Shoalhaven community.

The new blue observatory at UOW's Shoahaven Campus. Photo: Mark Newsham

The Shoalhaven location will enable them to not have to travel to Parkes or Coonabarabran, the site of other observatories, to conduct their research.

UOW Shoalhaven was chosen as the site of the observatory after the Shoalhaven Astronomers, who held their monthly meetings at the campus, received a grant for its construction. They approached the University, which saw the value in housing a state-of-the-art observatory and telescope at its campus in West Nowra.

Mr Hadley said the new observatory would not only benefit the astronomers and the wider community but also UOW’s future students, providing a glimpse at the universe and beyond.

“The observatory is a wonderful and unique addition to the Shoalhaven. It will grow our research and teaching capabilities, and our engagement with the Shoalhaven community,” Mr Hadley said.

“We are hoping it will enable our students to gain valuable insights into the universe and provide a chance to members of the local community to witness the beauty and awe of astronomical events.”

The Shoalhaven Observatory will allow UOW to expand the STEM subjects available at its campus, in particular the Astronomy-themed subject Concepts of the Universe, while also providing a point of interest for local schools.

From left, Paul Elle (Deputy Major Shoalhaven City Council), Sean Brawley, Mark Town (Shoalhaven Astronomers), Gareth Ward (Member for Kiama), John Gould (Shoalhaven Astronomers) and UOW Shoalhaven Campus Manager Chris Hadley. Photo: Supplied

From left, Shoalhaven City Council Deputy Mayor Paul Ell, UOW Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Strategy and Assurance) Professor Sean Brawley, Shoalhaven Astronomers' Mark Town, Member for Kiama Gareth Ward MP, Shoalhaven Astronomers' John Gould and UOW Shoalhaven Campus Manager Chris Hadley. Photo: Supplied

The observatory runs on battery power and is located on a block of land at the back of the campus.

John Gould, of Shoalhaven Astronomers, said the group were thrilled to have their own observatory in the region.

“The opening of the observatory marks a major milestone in astronomical endeavour in the Shoalhaven. It not only provides Shoalhaven Astronomers an opportunity to further their interests and knowledge in astronomy but enriches the community with the opportunity to witness major astronomical events and hopefully nurture a sense of curiosity and discovery in the universe,” Mr Gould said.

“The project has been a collaboration with the State Government through the provision of a grant and also with the University of Wollongong Shoalhaven campus by providing the land and lecture theatre.

“If any members of the public are interested in astronomy and the use of the observatory, they are welcome to come along to a Shoalhaven Astronomers meeting held on the third Friday of each month at the University campus.”