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Sydney Observatory

The Sydney Observatory is the oldest observatory in Australia.  
Picture: ©

Sydney Observatory a portal to the Southern Hemisphere's skies

The Sydney Observatory is the oldest observatory in Australia and has been in use for more than 140 years.


The Observatory preserves the history of astronomy in Australia. An early observatory - and predecessor to the Sydney Observatory - was built in 1788 on Dawes Point, at the foot of Observatory Hill. It was built to observe in 1790 the return of a comet suggested by Edmond Halley. The sighting, however, was unsuccessful.


Shortly after, Fort Philip was built in 1803 on Observatory Hill to protect Sydney cove from attack by the French. The eastern wall of the fort was converted to a signal station in 1825 and flags were used to send messages to ships and to a signal station on South Head.


The first Government Astronomer, William Scott, was appointed in 1856 and the Sydney Observatory was built on the hill and completed in 1958, from a design by the Colonial Architect, Alexander Dawson.




The observatory is a sandstone building in the Italianate style with two telescope domes on octagonal bases and a four-storey tower housing a "time-ball". A dome housed the equatorial telescope.


The most important role of the observatory, initially, was to signal the time to the city and harbour. This was done every day at 1pm when a "time-ball" on top of the tower would drop to signal the correct time. At the same time a cannon on Dawes Point was fired. The time-ball is still dropped each day at 1pm using an electric motor, bypassing the original mechanism.

But as time passed it's role became much more significant. Some of the first astronomical photographs of the southern sky were taken at the observatory and the observatory was instrumental in assisting with the compilation of the world's first atlas of sky, the astrographic catalogue. This work was carried out at the observatory from 1899 to 1971 and ended up filling 53 volumes.


The Sydney Observatory is now a working museum where visitors can observe the stars and planets through a modern 40 cm Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope and a historic 29 cm refractor telescope built in 1874, the oldest telescope in Australia in regular use.


Also at the observatory is a 7.25-inch refracting telescope on an equatorial mount manufactured by the German company Georg Merz and Sons between 1860 and 1861. The 7.25-inch Merz refracting telescope arrived at Sydney Observatory, Sydney, Australia, in 1861.


At the observatory visitors can see telescopes, read about the meaning and placement of stars in the Southern Hemisphere and see working models of our solar system.For those who want to know a bit more about astronomy the Observatory offers a 3-D Space Theatre and sessions where one can see the skies at night through historic and modern telescopes. These sessions are overseen by an astronomer.


The Observatory is situated on Observatory Hill, Millers Point, adjoining The Rocks area. It's a short walk from The Rocks and Circular Quay.


The hill area is mostly parkland and gardens and is a great spot for sitting on the lawn and taking in the views of Sydney Harbour and the bridge.


Observatory Hill is one of the most popular locations in Sydney for wedding ceremonies and it's more than likely that you'll see a wedding there on weekends.


Location: Watson Road, Observatory Hill, The Rocks
Telephone: +61 2 9921 3485
Opening Hours: Weekends 10:00 to 17:00
(Except Good Friday & Christmas Day
Services: 3-D Space Theatre
Monday to Friday 14:30 and 15:30
Weekends & School Holidays
11:00, 12:00, 14:00 & 15:30 (A fee applies)
Night Viewings
Bookings Essential & a fee applies
Getting There: Bus 431, 432 or 433 from George Street or 343 from Martin Place.
Train to Circular Quay or Wynyard and walk West and North West respectively.
Car Parking: The Clock Tower Square
55 Harrington Street, The Rocks.
Website: Sydney Observatory

Sydney Observatory

The view of the Sydney Harbour Bridge - with Lavender Bay on the far side of the harbour - from Observatory Hill.  
Picture: ©