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Tebbutt's Observatory

Michael Matthews

Sydney, Australia

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Artist's Description

Photographed with a Canon 400D.
HDR by Photomatix.

Peninsula House, Tebbutt’s Observatory
Location: Palmer Street, Windsor, NSW 2756 Australia.
Constructed: 1845-1845
The Observatory buildings are open to the public, restored by the great grandson of astronomer John Tebbutt II. Tebbutt, who appears on the $100 note, discovered two comets from these observatories and had a crater on the moon named after him. His great grandson still lives in the Peninsula House which dates from 1844.
On 13 May 1861 a young farmer at Windsor, a little town near Sydney, saw a fuzzy star. On checking his celestial charts he saw that there was no nebula listed for that position. Still, he could not be sure that it was a comet until he saw it move against the background stars. It took until the 21 May till he could detect sufficient movement to be almost certain. He then sent off a letter to the Rev. William Scott, the Government Astronomer at Sydney Observatory, as well as a letter to the Sydney Morning Herald.
In those days there was no quick communication between Australia and the rest of the world so that when the comet became visible in the northern hemisphere on 29 June 1861, it was a complete surprise to the astronomers in Britain and elsewhere. In his memoirs Tebbutt quotes from Descriptive Astronomy by George F Chambers, 1867 edition:
Few comets created greater sensation than the Great Comet of 1861. It was discovered by Mr. J. Tebbutt, an amateur observer in New South Wales, on May 13, prior to its perihelion passage, which took place on June 11. Passing from the southern hemisphere into the northern it became visible in this country (England) on June 29, though it was not generally seen until the next evening.
The discovery of this comet was a great way for young John Tebbutt to introduce himself to astronomers the world over. Over the next 40 years or so, he put out such a prodigious stream of high quality observations of comets, minor planets, variable stars, eclipses and transits that his reputation continually increased. At the time his one-man observatory at Windsor was regarded as the equal of the government observatories in Sydney and Melbourne. Today he is rightly judged as having been Australia’s foremost amateur astronomer.

Artwork Comments

  • Warren  Patten
  • Michael Matthews
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