Australian observatory survives wildfire
SYDNEY (AFP) – Telescopes at a global astronomy research hub appear to have survived a devastating Australian bushfire that destroyed nearby homes and damaged several buildings on the site, officials said on Monday.
The fire, which raged through the night fuelled by hot, strong winds, damaged parts of the Aus$100 million (US$105 million) Siding Spring Observatory some 500 kilometres northwest of Sydney, officials said.
But the New South Wales Rural Fire Service (RFS) said although some 33 homes had been destroyed, aerial surveillance had established that the main Anglo-Australian Telescope (AAT) “has survived, although it is not known if it has been damaged”.
Eighteen staff working at the observatory, which houses 10 telescopes run by Australian, Polish, British, South Korean and American researchers, were safely evacuated before the fire struck. Monitoring instruments at the main telescope showed temperatures surging above 100 degrees Celsius at the height of the danger, and the RFS said there had been “genuine fear for people’s lives”.
The inferno was one of 170 blazes raging on Monday across New South Wales, Australia’s most populous state, where heatwave conditions have scorched some 500,000 hectares over the past week.