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The scientific history of the Perth Observatory from 1960 to 1993

Bowers, Craig (2016) The scientific history of the Perth Observatory from 1960 to 1993. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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The Perth Observatory has existed as a State funded astronomical research institute, in Western Australia, since 1896. From its humble beginning, providing the fundamental services of time, tides, meteorology and support to surveying for a fledgling State, it subsequently grew to become a major southern hemisphere contributor to astronomy.

During the first seventy plus years, when it was located in the Perth CBD, its focus was mostly on the provision of information to the Western Australian population, and astronomical research was seen as luxury.

When it was forced to move out of the CBD in the mid 1960s, the new Perth Observatory opened with negotiated international astronomical programs that were more astronomy focused than in its earlier years. These included, the compilation of the largest southern star catalogues, a successful photographic astrometric program on minor planets and comets and the involvement in a worldwide observing program on solar system planets.

The subsequent forty-­‐six year period (1969-­‐2015) also saw increases in staff, which had previously been limited by war, politics and state financial issues; there were also several reviews of its operation and attempts at closure.

This thesis is a review of the Perth Observatory’s management and leadership, its scientific programs and the changes in society, politics and technology, which influenced its scientific services and research programs over the years (1963 – 2013). The aim of this work is to evaluate the contributions to the State and the research achievements of the Perth Observatory during the last 50 years of its life.

With the termination of professional research at the Observatory announced during the writing of this thesis, the final chapter presents the conclusions that can be drawn from the thesis that answer the fundamental research questions: -

1.“What prompted the Observatory to shift from Mt Eliza to Bickley and how did this relocation shape the scientific and cultural contribution of the Perth Observatory to Western Australia, Australia and the world in subsequent decades?”.

2.“What were the major scientific achievements of the Perth Observatory between 1966 and 1993?”; and

3.“What were the major factors that led to its closure as a research institution in 2013?”.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Engineering and Information Technology
Supervisor(s): Jennings, Philip
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