When Geoffrey Duffield returned to Australia in late 1924, after a decade in England, he had a big job ahead of him. Duffield had lobbied for Australia to build a Sun-watching observatory since he was an undergraduate. The government finally agreed, in 1923, and hired Duffield as its first director. And the Commonwealth Solar Observatory was officially established 100 years ago today. It would be built on Mount Stromlo, near the city of Canberra. And it’s still there today, renamed the Mount Stromlo Observatory.
When Duffield first arrived at the site, though, he was stunned to find that the mountain was bare. There were no buildings, no staff, and no telescopes. Duffield and his family lived in a Canberra hotel for two years. When he hired staff members, they set up labs and workshops at the same hotel. It was years before anyone could live or work at the observatory – and years more before it was finished.
Duffield didn’t see that completion. He was living on the mountain when a massive winter storm hit, in July 1929. He came down with the flu, but there was no way to get medical help. He died before the road cleared up.
Much of the observatory was destroyed in a forest fire in 2003. But one of its original telescopes survived. It’s used mainly for public programs. And despite the losses, Mount Stromlo remains a major center for astronomy research – a century after its creation.
Tomorrow: Close to the Sun.
Script by Damond Benningfield