Welcome to the Barden Ridge Observatory Home Page

Barden Ridge observatory is owned and operated by me! (Peter Ward)

and is located in my backyard (around 30km to the south of the Sydney central business district).

Barden Ridge runs along the top of the Woronora River valley, with the Royal National Park to the east. Holsworthy Reserve and Heathcote National parks to the south.


 

Recent results

Sydney was treated to warm autumn days, replaced by crisp and clear nights for the May26th, 2021 total lunar eclipse.
The next total lunar eclispe visible from Sydney will not be unitl November 8th 2022.

Taken with a Canon EOSRa DSLR fitted to an Astro-Physics 130-GTX refractor.
.The (slightly cropped) version of this was awarded NASA's Astronomy Picture Of the Day (APOD)
The image below also had the luxury of more time
to select the best data frames and calibrate the colour temperature

 


 

Inside the Observatory

 

The dome is a Sirius 2.3 metre "home-model" fibreglass dome. It is around 30 years old now, having withstood numerous Sydney thunderstorms, downpours and hail with ease. Apart from the occasional "cut and polish" using automotive cleaners, the observatory has required little maintenance. It is fully robotic, with both shutter and dome rotation being controllable via a Cat-5 network cable running to the house. The system is also accessible via the internet.

You can view a selection from the gallery of images here

Above the Woronra River valley, this image shows Barden Ridge looking south. The distant buildings at top centre of the frame are Australia's only Nuclear Science and Technolgy facility (ANSTO) .

 

The main telescope is an Alluna Optics 16" Ritchey-Chretien. An Astro-Physics GTX F6.3 is used for Solar Imaging Also used are an AP155 F7 refractor and AP305mm Riccardi Honders Astrograph The mount is a Paramount MEII. The mount is attached to a 10" diameter, powder-coated steel pier, dyna-bolted to a concrete and brick column below the observatory deck.
Weather monitoring is carried out by a Boltwood Mark II weather sensor. It measures mean wind speed, humidity, cloud cover, ambient light and detects rainfall...plus the occasional arachnid that wanders under the lower sensor, thus closing the dome !

Things that make the observatory work better

1: AllSky webcam Sometimes the Boltwood monitor misses high/thin cloud.

This camera uses a Point Grey Cricket IP camera and uploads images to the Web every 3 minutes The all-weather housing is made from some PVC plumbing parts, duct tape, and an acrylic dome from a RC drone,

Ugly but functional !

 

 

Things that make the dome work better 2: Delonghi de-humidifier, on a self timer that activates just before dawn. The clear plastic tube drains to underneath the observatory deck. The carpeted floor has saved many an eyepiece and instrument  from certain destruction.

.

The image above is typical of the imaging performance the RH305mm telescope. This deep image of the Horse Head nebula was taken over many nights, partly due to the very dim nature of the dust cloud, but mainly due the massive amount of sky glow from the Sydney urban sprawl.

Things that make the observatory better 3: NPort USB to RS232 hub. Essential for controlling the dome, filter-wheels etc.
The business end of the telescopes. The RC16 is fitted with a Telescope Control Centre which controls and monitors:
  • Absolute focus,
  • fan speed,
  • ambient, primary and secondary temperatures.
  • secondary dew heater
  • Instrument rotator
 The Precision Instrument Rotator (PIR) can rotate the CCD camera  to a repeatable 0.1 of a degree for guide star acquisition. The 16 Megapixel SBIG STX16803 uses 65mm square filters.
A second 6.0 megapixel Point Grey CCD is used for solar images. Looking a bit like Frankenstein's monster the camera is cooler via two PC CPU heatsinks and fans coupled to 2x 60 watt peltier coolers. As a result the camera typically reports an operating temperature of around 24 degrees....a vast improvement over its normal 40 degree operating temperature! The camera is also used with a SBIG CFW10 filter-wheel fitted with Custom Scientific SII, H-Alpha (3nm and 10nm) OIII filters plus Astro-Don RGB imaging filters for occasional planetary imaging sessions.
Above: The transit of Venus...required a field trip! Below: The great nebula in Carina

 

Above: The Ara nebula in narrow band. Below: Sun in H-Alpha

 

Below: Sydney's Summer thunderstorms. Surge protectors on expensive observatory equipment is mandatory! Below: Total solar eclipse taken a few miles north east of  the observatory... :)..... Wyoming USA
 Some QuickTime VR movies, imaged near Mudgee NSW can be found at the links below Southern Star trails  (right) and associated web page The Southern Milky way (Windows users will need to install an Apple Quicktime player for their browsers to view these)

My astrophotography "discoveries/innovations"

Digital Measurement of Periodic Error

In late 1997 I was helping test precision worm gears for Scott Losmandy (owner and founder of
Hollywood General Machining) usng my SBIG ST4 autoguider. .
I mentioned in passing that I used the ST4 autoguider to measure
the periodic error of the gears to one of SBIG's lead engineers, Dr Alan Holmes. "How are you doing that?" he asked.
He was puzzled as the system was designed to correct tracking errors, hence there shouldn't be anything useful to measure!

My solution was simple: disable the guder's corrections, and simply plot the guide star's positions from a starting datum.
SBIG's CCDOPS software allowed generation of a "track-log" file so the guide star data which
could be easily exported to and graphed in a spreadsheet..

He said he was constantly amazed by applications for their products that users came up with...and this was one of them.

The measuring periodic error was a function subsequently added to the "new" STV autoguider released in the year 2000

Milkyway Arch panoramas

(Below "Space is curved" CWAS David Malin innovation prize winning image 2007)

In 2006 I was wanting to create a 360 degree panorama image of star trails in the night sky,
but did not have the multiple cameras or software necessary to stitch the multiple time exposures
that would be required for such an image.

My "eureka moment" was realising I could do this with a single camera,
fitted with a180 degree circular fisheye lens and a new "re-mapping" feature in Photoshop CS.
The Photoshop tool allowed the conversion of images from polar to retangular co-ordinates
.
I then took a sequence of time exposures over a period of several hours with the fisheye lens pointed at the zenith,
stacked them show the star trails, and converted the circular fisheye image (i.e. polar) to a rectangular one.

The image's horizontal aspect was then elongated by Pi x number of horizontal pixels, and I had my 360 panorama.
I also applied the same technique to a single frame, and the proverbial night sky "Milky Way arch" was created.


I received the David Malin innovation award for the method, and a NASA APOD in 2007 for the star trail image.

Ultra wide panoramas of the Milky Way since been replicated and improved upon many time since,
Contemporary imagers now use panoramic heads and modern stitching software that no longer geometrically distorts the star shapes.

However it all started with the above image taken in 2006 at Mudgee Observatory in NSW, Australia..

Plus a few Glittering prizes picked up along the way.......

Unfortunately growing light pollution to the north and west is slowly making night time astrophotography more difficult from the observatory.
Despite that, I've received a few national and international awards for my Astrophotography work:

"Cosmic Inferno"

First Prize, Royal Greenwich Observatory

Astronomy Photographer of the year 2020 (stars and nebulae)

Discovered by John Frederick William Herschel on 16 March 1834 is the 3576th entry in is New General Catalog: unsurprisingly labeled NGC3576
A computer software routine has removed the stars from the original image, leaving behind just the nebula structure.
Shades of grey in the original data have been mapped to a palette sampled from press imagery of
Australia's devastating fires of 2019/2020 during which time the Observatory was often heavily shrouded by bushfire smoke.

 

Some of my Astrophotography awards and publications

National Awards

CWAS David Malin Astrophotography Awards

Judged by Dr David Malin OAM.
Dr Malin pioneered many astrophotographic techniques at the Anglo-Australian Observatory
His colour imagery using the AAO and UK Schmidt telescopes is world renowned

CWAS/Malin awards are Australia's premiere Astrophotographic event.
The awards were generously sponsored by Canon Australia and the CSIRO for many years.

Apart from the overall prize, successful entrants are given category wins or honorable mentions
(hightly commeded entries were also given kudos, but no sponsor prizes were given to the recipients)
I have received around 20 highly commended images which due to poor record keeping on my part have not been included below.

The NewsCorp Photo editor's prize was added from 2012.

The inaugrual Year was 2004. I was a co- judge with one of Australia's finest amateur Astrophotographers Mr Steven Quirk.

As "vetting" judges we clearly could not enter the competition. Not many entries were recieved (about 30), David Malin subsequently made all judging decisions in 2004 and following years.
With the generous sponsorship of Canon Australia, the entry pool grew to over 500 entrants. The subsequent Malin Award exhibitions have been attended by a total of over 2 million visitors, making it the largest photographic exhibition of any kind in Australia.

I subsequently have acted as the judge for the Royal Astronomical Society of New Zealand Astrophotography competition in 2016.

*The CWAS comittee created a "semi-professional" category from 2005 to 2009 which probibited entrants who derived any income from astronomy/photography interests from entering other competition categories.

The David Malin Innovation Prize  is rarely and only awarded at Dr Malin's discretion,
"for a striking astronomical image that shows exceptional imagination, innovation or an unusual approach in any of the categories"

*2005 Winner Semi-professional category (Wide field image)
*2006 Winner Semi-professional category Solar System +OVERALL WINNER + Honorable mentions x3
*2007 Winner Semi-professional category (Nightscape image) + Winner Innovation Prize + Honorable mentions x2
*2008 Winner Semi-professional category (Deep sky image) + Honorable mentions x2
*2009 Honorable mentions x2
2010 Winner Innovation Prize x2 + Honorable mentions x2
2011 Winner Solar System + Honorable mentions x3
2012 Winner Solar System + 1 Honorable mention
2013 Honorable mentions x3
2014 Winner Scientific animation + Honorable mention x2
2015 Winner Solar System Winner Photo Editor Deep Sky
2016 Winner Deep Sky Honorable mention x4
2017 Winner Solar System Honorable mention x1
2018 Winner Deep Sky Honorable mention x4
2019 Winner Deep Sky + OVERALL WINNER +1x Honorable mention
2020 Winner Solar System

2021 Retired from the CWAS/Malins competition to take a place on the judging panel with Dr David Malin plus arguably, two of Australia's finest Astrophotographers, Phil Hart and Alex Cherney.

 

Sydney Observatory/The Powerhouse Museum

Winner Best Venus 2012 Transit image.

Australian Museum Eureka Prize 2012

Third place. Scientific Photography


 

International Awards

Royal Greenwich Observatory Astronomy Photographer of the Year



Initially the competition was a modest affair starting in 2009 via submissions to a Flikr group
and attracted about 500 entrants from 30 countries.


It has expanded significantly and with Insight Investment as a sponsor
since 2016 the overall winner now receives a prize of £10,000

making it the richest astrophotographic contest in the world.

The 2020 competition saw 5400 entrants from 90 countries

The subsequent exhibition has been moved from the
Royal Greenwich Observatory into a dedicated space at
The National Maritime Museum and features massive back-lighted transparencies,
projections and interactive media.

2011 Highly Commended Our Sun
2012 Short listed
2013 Shortlisted
2015 Sortlisted x2
2018 Runner up. Our Moon
2020 Winner. Stars and Nebulae

Sky & Telescope Beautiful Universe Competition

In order to attract, in their own words, "the most awesome and inspiring images"
USA publishing icon, Sky & Telescope magazine
in 2007 invited contestants to submit their work for their
"Beautiful Universe" contest with prize incentives to supply images for their print publication.

Over 900 submissions were received from around the world.
While their annual publication of outstanding astrophotography goes on,
the contest unfortunately did not continue beyond 2007.

.Winner / First prize The Sun
+ Second place The Sun
+ Winner People’s Choice The Sun

Publications

My images and the occasional interview have appeared in the publications listed below.

Sky&Telescope Magazine, Astronomy Magazine, Australian Sky & Telescope Magazine, Southern Astronomy Magazine, Sky & Space Magazine, Cosmos Magazine, BBC The Sky at Night Magazine, S&T Beautiful Universe, Advanced Images Photography, PhotoCreator (Japan) ,The Bulletin, The Sydney Morning Herald,The Sun-Herald, The Australian, The Melbourne Age, The Guardian, The Daily Telegraph, The Leader, The Parkes Champion Post, 2018 Australian SkyGuide (Cover),Astronomy Calendar 2010, Astronomy Calendar 2017, Astronomy Calendar 2018, Astronomy Calendar 2019, Australian Geographic Calendar 2013, Australian Geographic Calendar 2021, Sky at Night Calendar 2021, The Physics of the Sun, Pathways to Astronomy (McGraw Hilll), Greenwich Astronomy Photographer of the Year (APOTY) Collins Collection 1, Greenwich APOTY Collins Collection 2, Greenwich APOTY Collins Collection 4, Greenwich APOTY Collins Collection 7, Greenwich APOTY Collins Collection 9. Pathways to Astronomy Fifth Edition (McGraw Hill). NASA Astronomy Picture of the day (APOD) 2007, 2010 x2, 2013,2016,2017,2018, 2021


Broadcast Media

ABC Television Channel 2, Channel 7 Television, Channel 9 Television (Millionaire Hotseat ! )
BBC four (UK), CBS 4 Television (USA)
ABC Radio National (Australia)


Advertising

Voyagers Ayers Rock Resort ran an extensive national Australian print media campaign
which included most major tabloids and the QANTAS inflight magazine in 2014 using my "Moonrise over Uluru" series.
The cropped image below was featured heavily in the campaign plus the uncropped original gained a NASA Astronomy Picture of The Day.