Allison-Levick Lecture

When telescopes go bad

Fred Watson
Anglo-Australian Observatory

On the eve of the telescope's 400th birthday, astronomers are planning a new generation of giant optical (visible-light) telescopes that promise to transform our view of the Universe. But the history of humankind's most far-sighted invention is littered with projects that for one reason or another have failed to live up to expectations. How can we be sure that the new facilities will succeed in delivering the goods?

In this entertaining and fully-illustrated talk, Fred Watson looks back at some of the the world's worst and best telescopes, and asks what makes a productive astronomical instrument. What is it that ensures satisfaction from the community such a facility is designed to serve? And how do some telescopes go from mere competence to iconic status? Sometimes, the answers are quite surprising.

ABOUT THE SPEAKER: Fred Watson says he has spent so many years
working in large telescope domes that he has started to look like
one. Educated at the universities of St Andrews and Edinburgh, he
worked at both of Britain's former Royal Observatories before
moving to Australia in 1982. Here, he helped to pioneer the use of
fibre optics in astronomy, a technique that has today
revolutionised the way information is gathered on very large
numbers of objects.

Since 1995, Fred has been Astronomer-in-Charge of the
Anglo-Australian Observatory in north-western NSW, where he is
involved with large-scale surveys of stars and galaxies. He also
holds adjunct professorships in the University of Southern
Queensland and the Queensland University of Technology. Rather
unexpectedly, he has become well-known for his award-winning
astronomy segments on ABC radio.

Fred's book "Stargazer - the life and times of the telescope" was
published in 2004 by Allen & Unwin, and will be released in the UK
in September.

This public lecture is sponsored by a bequest to the Anglo-Australian Observatory in memory of Mr Jack Allison-Levick, a Melbourne psychiatrist with a life-long interest in astronomy. This public lecture is intended "to enhance the public understanding of astronomy and the reputation of the Observatory".

The lectures started in 2003, when the lecture was held in conjunction with the IAU General Assembly in Sydney, and was given by David Malin (AAO) . In 2004, the lecture was held in conjunction with the Astronomical Society of Australia's Annual Scientific Meeting in Brisbane, and was given by Richard Ellis (CalTech).

RAS National Astronomy Meeting 2005 and UK Solar Physics Meeting
University of Birmingham
Physics Poynting S02
Tuesday 6 April 2005
 7 p.m.