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Government: Observatory makes stars more accessible

Posted by on 16/08/2018

Toner Stevenson Photo: Melissa Hulbert

Toner Stevenson Photo: Melissa Hulbert

Toner Stevenson Photo: Melissa Hulbert

A new building now under construction at Sydney Observatory will make viewing the stars and planets easier for visitors with limited mobility. A lift will go up to its dome, which will house a new telescope designed for ease of use.

However, not everything will be modern. The metal dome itself is returning to the observatory site after years in storage and the building will house a star camera used to photograph the night sky from 1892 and a historic star measuring machine.

The observatory is one of the three venues of Sydney’s Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences (MAAS) — the others are the Powerhouse Museum and the Powerhouse Discovery Centre at Castle Hill — and it has been in continuous use since 1858.

Originally essential to shipping, navigation, meteorology and timekeeping as well as study of the night sky, it later became a hub for research and now plays an important role in educating the public about the physical nature of the universe and cultural interpretations of it.

“Astronomy is a little like dinosaurs — one of those areas that inspires people from when they are very young right through life. Every culture has a relationship to astronomy,” says observatory manager Toner Stevenson.

Around 180,000 people visited the site last year. They included school groups, families and tourists from around Australia and more than 100 other countries. Many undertook tours, participated in courses and visited a new digital planetarium, funded through a bequest from the estate of former teacher and keen amateur astronomer Ross Bailey.

Stevenson shares the passion of many visitors for places that preserve heritage, history and knowledge.

A design graduate from the Sydney College of the Arts, she worked for a short time as a retail designer before joining MAAS staff in the 1980s, designing exhibitions when the first stage of the Powerhouse Museum opened.

Designing and coordinating the installation of an international exhibition raised her interest in management and she began masters level studies in management at the University of Technology Sydney.

She was appointed manager of Sydney Observatory in 2003 with a brief to increase programs and events, and boost visitor numbers. The years since have included an 18-month period as project manager during development of the Darwin Centre at London’s famous Natural History Museum from 2009.

Stevenson says one of the aims of that centre was to bring expert and curatorial staff into closer contact with the public. “Visitors can see into laboratories and understand what the museum’s staff do.”

Communication skills are, she says, increasingly important in many scientific and museum roles: “At the observatory, communicating astronomy is very important. Our astronomers engage with the public and the media. Most scientists are very keen to share knowledge and museums provide a forum for that to happen.”

Stevenson says Sydney Observatory has a small core staff; casual staff who include post graduate astronomers and highly skilled amateurs, and access to the expertise of MAAS educators, curators and other employees.

“We are active on social media and our astronomers write blogs. We engage respectfully with the public,” she says.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

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