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Australia's Mount Stromlo Observatory Destroyed By Fire

The historic Mount Stromlo Observatory operated by The Australian National University lies in ruins after a firestorm tore through the outer suburbs of Canberra, 19 January 2003. Australia's national capital was hit by a severe bushfire late 18 January which claimed the lives of at least four people, injured another 150 and destroyed hundreds of homes. AFP Photo by Torsten Blackwood
Canberra - Jan 20, 2003
Australia's Mount Stromlo Observatory located near the nation's capital Canberra has been destroyed by devastating bushfires that have ravaged the city for the past five days.

"We are thankful that no staff or students were injured in the Mount Stromlo fire." ANU Vice-Chancellor Professor Ian Chubb said today.

The Observatory, operated by the ANU Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics, is one of Australia's leading centres of Astronomical research. The fires destroyed four telescopes, the equipment workshop, eight houses which had been occupied by staff and an administration building.

Preliminary estimates have valued the losses at more than $20 million.

Two office buildings and the visitors centre were spared -- importantly, preserving most of the computer data generated on site in recent years.

Professor Chubb emphasised that the work of the Research School would continue.

"The loss of Mount Stromlo is a devastating blow to Australian research and in particular to the 60 staff and 20 students who made it their workplace.

"To those staff who also lost homes on Mount Stromlo, these fires have delivered a double blow.

"It is vital to emphasise that the work of the Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics will continue, however.

The University has adequate workshop and laboratory facilities to accommodate the valuable equipment contracts which are being fulfilled by the school -- including the $6.3 million contract to build a sharp-eyed imager for the Gemini South Telescope in Chile.

"Other research projects have been undeniably set back by this loss, although we are still evaluating the full extent of the damage.

"Plans are already being put in place to rebuild at Mount Stromlo and restore the Research School to its full capacity.

"The fires have been a devastating blow to Canberra and the ANU is committed to helping rebuild the lives of those affected."

The Director of the Research School, Professor Penny Sackett, said, "Our losses are presently overwhelming and the scene of Mount Stromlo is one of devastation, but we have retained our most valuable asset, our staff, 100 per cent intact and we are extremely grateful for their safety."

"We have also saved our computer database and many of us will be back at work tomorrow."

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