In what is sure to be a major relief to our friends in the Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics, the ANU-run Siding Spring Observatory has been spared from a major bushfire that raged near Warrumbungle National Park in New South Wales last night. This event is reminiscent of the bush fires in Canberra in 2003, which destroyed a large part of the Mt Stromlo Observatory. Certainly, our thoughts go out to the employees who lost their homes in the fire.
The location of the Siding Spring Observatory was selected due to its distance from major sources of light polution and dry climate. One of the major projects ongoing at the facility is SkyMapper, which is mapping the entire southern hemisphere sky. The observatory is also used by researchers and hidden cameras who are searching for planets that orbit other stars, and of course the pursuit of alien life.