Director's Report


Management Perspective

Statement of purpose

The mission of MSSSO:

· the quest for knowledge about the Universe and the communication of what we learn

· development of the technology that leads to scientific breakthroughs

· fulfilment of the potential of all Observatories' staff and students

Sources of revenue

Sources of revenue $k 1996 1997

IAS block grant 5365 5431

External funds 737 987

Ancillary activities 224 820

Ancillary activities are the Observatories' commercial enterprises, the Siding Spring Lodge and the visitor centres. The increase in 1997 was principally the opening of the Stromlo Exploratory.

Research Advisory Board

The Board met on 25 September with Prof. A.R. Hyland (DVC of Southern Cross University) replacing Prof. J. Davis (University of Sydney). Prof. Hans Bachor replaced Prof. D. Williamson, and Prof. Erich Weigold replaced Prof. L. Mander. These appointments are for three years. The Board tendered its report to the Vice-Chancellor, expressing its concern about the level of support for MSSSO observing facilities.

Administrative Structure

No changes were made to the structure described in last year's report.

MSSSO Annual Report 1997

Observatories Restructuring

Enterprise bargaining in 1996 necessitated across-the-board restructuring at the Observatories in 1997. The themes of the MSSSO restructure were:

· reduction of the number of academic staff by 15%

· doing approximately the same Observatory work with fewer permanent General Staff

· seeking more project funds and supplementing staffing with contract staff

· ensuring that salary costs do not choke the ability to purchase essential equipment

One structural change was made:

· amalgamation of the Siding Spring Observatory mechanical and electronic sections into a single SSO technical section.

Operational costs at Mount Stromlo Observatory were reduced by outsourcing the Observatory cleaning. Arrangements were unchanged at SSO, where partial recoveries of costs are made from site users.

Without including MSSSO Ancillary Activities or showing fractional position changes, the impact of restructuring can be summarized as follows:

Section # from cost

lost (base) saving

Academic 3 25 15%

Mech/Optical 2 10 13%

Electronics 1 10 8%

Computing 2 5 32%

SSO Technical 2 7 21%

Operations 3 8 21%

Administration 1 7 8%

TOTAL 14 72 15%

Individually, staff changes are listed in the first chapter of this report. Collectively, they represent a pool of talent and experience lost with great reluctance to the Observatories. One and all, we wish our departing staff well.

Director's Report

Equal Employment Opportunity

After the resignation during the year of two female academic staff members, total staff was 21.5, and the number of women was reduced to one.

Occupational Health & Safety

The Occupational Health and Safety Committee met four times during the year.

Strategic Plan

In 1997 MSSSO made further progress with its 1994 ten year strategic plan.


Promote Australian membership of ESO to gain access to large optical infrared telescopes.

Negotiations for membership of the European Southern Observatory were terminated in May 1996. In May 1997 the board of the International Gemini Project, which is building two 8 metre telescopes at superb sites, one in Hawaii and one in Chile, called for expressions of interest in membership of the partnership at the 5% level. At the request of the Academy's National Committee for Astronomy, which is chaired by the Director, the Australian Research Council (ARC) offered to fill the 5% vacancy, an offer which was accepted subject to continuing inaction by Chile on its financial obligations.

In the event, CONICYT, the Chilean research agency, did meet those obligations at the end of August, and the Gemini Board took the opportunity to extend the offer to ARC to supplement the partnership. At the end of 1997 negotiations between ARC and the U.S. National Science Foundation, lead agency for Gemini, were ongoing. The outcome should be an exciting opportunity for MSSSO astronomers to take part in the rush of discoveries which will be enabled by these new instruments and as a long term participant in internationally pre-eminent research facilities. Other partners in Gemini are the funding agencies of the U.K., Canada, Brazil, and Argentina.

MSSSO Annual Report 1997


Develop the synergy between theory and observation in the ANU Astrophysical Theory Centre

Dr. Martyn de Kool joined the Centre as the first member appointed with IAS Strategic Development Fund resources.

Wide Field Imaging

Sharpen our leading edge telescopes with state of the art instrumentation

Design reviews were completed for a new 8000 x 8000 pixel CCD camera. The project is a collaboration with the Anglo-Australian Observatory, Auspace, and the University of Melbourne.


Expand the power of our local computational infrastructure

The Wide Field Imaging project will extend to the provision of data reduction facilities for these very large scale images, funded by the collaborating parties and by ARC.


Work towards the next generation Australian led observatory in Antarctica

The Automated Astrophysical Site Testing Observatory was opened at the South Pole in January by Senator Robert Hill. Operation is in collaboration with UNSW and the U.S. NSF's Center for Astrophysical Research in Antarctica. Further progress was made with design and fabrication work on the generic cold-climate site-testing telescope mount. But the project slipped a year, as a result of engineering overcommitments at Stromlo.

Space Astronomy

Develop Australian instrumentation for international space astronomy missions

The new agency for Australian space technology is the CSIRO's Office of Space Science and Applications, located in the offices of ANUTECH. Its instrumentation program is focussed on very light weight facilities and does not currently include astronomy.

Director's Report

Graduate Program

Add new course options and emphases

A core curriculum for Ph.D. students was agreed for implementation in 1998.

The Stromlo Exploratory

Develop a visitor centre for Mount Stromlo

The Stromlo Exploratory was opened to the public on schedule in July. By year's end 9,893 visitors had passed through the turnstile. The fundraising campaign for astronomy exhibits passed the halfway mark to its $1.2M target.

MSSSO as a National Facility

Coordinate with universities and the AAO in providing Australian observing facilities

Number of Nights Allocated for External or

Collaborative Use on MSSSO Telescopes During 1997


2.3m 74" 40" 24"

Overseas users 16 69 66 112 122 31 24 -

UNS universities 60 12 51 6 45 13 - -

Anglo-Aust Obs/ CSIRO 16 3 - - 19 - - -

Other 46 52 -

Total nights of external 176 235 276 76

or collaborative use


Note: The first entry of each pair is the number of nights allocated entirely for external use; the second is the number of nights allocated for collaborative projects involving MSSSO and external researchers. The 24" is scheduled less regularly than the larger telescopes. This figure represents about the same external proportion of its total use as for the other three telescopes.

Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics

Integrate the Observatories into the IAS as a full research school

This proposal is under consideration by the IAS.

MSSSO Annual Report 1997

Dedicated Telescopes

Look for opportunities to dedicate telescopes to externally funded projects

Electro Optics Systems (EOS) P/L was granted a site licence to carry out Satellite Laser Ranging from Mount Stromlo and proceeded to locate its Australian facility just to the West of the Oddie telescope. The licence agreement stipulates non-interference of laser transmissions with astronomical observing programs on Mount Stromlo. EOS is a sponsor of the Stromlo Exploratory.

Cooperation with Japanese Astronomers

Attend to collaborative possibilities with astronomically developing countries

A world-leader in radio and x-ray astronomy, Japan is developing its optical and infrared astronomy to the same high standing. A joint meeting of the IAU's Australian and Japanese national committees in Kyoto in August laid the groundwork for cooperation in the areas of phase two instruments for Subaru (the National Observatory's 8 metre telescope on Mauna Kea), space radio astronomy, and submillimeter astronomy. Mount Stromlo is responsible for organizing forthcoming scientific exchange, including workshops which have been funded under ATNF's Major National Research Facilities project.

An Australian Astronomy Data Centre

Evaluate the utility of an Australian Astronomy Data Centre

As reported last year, the concept of an Australian Astronomy Data Centre was given a low priority in the 1994 discipline review 'Australian Astronomy Beyond 2000'.

Undergraduate Astronomy Courses

Consider the utility of an undergraduate astronomy course in the Faculties

Staff members contributed as detailed in section 10 of this report. MSSSO is in the vanguard of the IAS's developing interest in Honours year programs.