Learn about Mount Burnett Observatory

Welcome to your QR Code tour of MBO!

Mount Burnett Observatory (MBO) Inc. is a not-for-profit astronomical society based at Mount Burnett in the Dandenong Ranges, approx. 40 km east of Melbourne’s CBD

Follow the QR codes and learn about the history of our fantastic domes, buildings and astronomers.

To understand where the QR codes are, refer to the map below.

You are currently standing at  (#1) the Celestron Dome.

1. The Celestron Dome

  • The building started early 2016 and concluded in 2017.
  • Officially opened by Mr Jason Wood M.P. on the 24th November 2017.
  • Houses a Celestron 14 inch HD Schmidt Cassegrain Telescope.
  • The aim for the dome is to have it fully automated and be utilised by MBO members and for scientific research.

2. The Monash Dome

The Observatory was built in 1972 by Monash University and overseen by the science faculty. The first building on the site was a two storey ‘dome’, housing a 16′′ (0.4-m) Newtonian reflector telescope.

The telescope mount itself dates back the late 1940s. If you take the tour, you will see it upstairs. The telescope was bought by Monash University from the deceased estate of Mr. L. Jeffree in Bendigo in 1968 and Monash staff and students modified it to take a spectrograph. Spectrographs collect data that tell scientists how much light comes out at each wavelength. These data reveal important details about the makeup of atmospheres on exoplanets, the compositions of stars and nebulas, the motion of galaxies and more [source]. Our spectrograph was installed here in 1972.

The telescope was originally a 16-inch mirror in a wooden tube, but the wooden tube was unable to handle the weight of the spectrograph and other instruments, so Monash University decided to upgrade and an 18 inch mirror tube was installed in 1984. Our telescope in the Monash dome was last used for official scientific research by Monash University in 2004.

3. Astronomers and Discoveries

The Monash Observatory at Mt Burnett was established in the early 1970’s by Monash University. Originally overseen by the Science Faculty, it soon became a field station of the Physics Department, and was been operated and maintained by Departmental staff (academic and technical) and research students.

Since the mid-1970’s  “Multicolour photoelectric photometry” has been carried out at MBO. We are in a wonderful location to view selected southern variable stars. This process involves measuring the brightness of a star by measuring the electric current produced when light falls on a light-sensitive surface (photo=light metry =measuring). Read more here.

Although the observatory has always been a small installation, both in terms of instrumentation and staff numbers. In spite of this, a variety of work has been undertaken and some of the work has been recognised both nationally and internationally.


Initial work with the 16″ telescope involved building and using  a low-dispersion spectrometer and broad-band photometer for studies of bright stars. The spectra were recorded on glass plates (these were the years well before CCD’s, the charge-coupled devices used in today’s digital cameras!)

The light from several bright southern stars was measured – including the legendary ‘Canopus’ spectrum that is still spoken of reverently by older staff! However, the limited light grabbing capacity of the telescope, the low efficiency of glass plates, and optical alignment instabilities in the wooden-tubed telescope (‘the coffin’), meant that results were hard to come by, although much useful experience was gained.

Also in the early 1980’s the Observatory work moved more into the field of active chromosphere stars – i.e. look at cool (temperature not hip!) stars that show enhanced solar-like activity (starspots, etc.). The Observatory identified a number of stars of this class in the southern sky, and MBO astronomers were able to follow the changing patterns of light variations of these stars as their starspots grew and decayed over several months or years. Work done at MBO established that some of these stars were relatively young, comparable in age to the stars in the Pleiades cluster, which helps us better understand the building blocks of our galaxy.

With thanks to Dr John Innis for his work on documenting the History of MBO upon which this section is based.

4. The Chook Shed

In the early 1980’s, in a ‘roll-off-roof’ shed, affectionately known as the ‘chookhouse’ was added to the site.

Work continues on this small but mighty facility at MBO. Inside we house a Solar telescope among other things and, thanks to the recent hard work of some of our committee and members, we now have a very deep and very strong concrete piling, ready to take the permanent mounting of the telescope. Next, an automated retractable roof will add accessibility to this space.

While telescopes enable us to view the night sky, solar scopes enable us to watch solar activity such as sunspots and solar flares. The sun gives off radiation and heat along with light, which makes direct observation unadvisable (definitely!) and impractical in the long term. So, to view the sun for scientific observations, we either need a cooled room for the telescope or we can make use of the Earth’s natural cooling effect. The diagram below demonstrates this [source]. At MBO, we hope to use this eco-friendly approach, combined with cutting edge technology to make precise measurements of our Sun’s activity. This is only possible because of our wonderful committee and members!

5. The Log Cabin

In 1975 a pre-fabricated log cabin was installed on the site, providing observers quarters and a display area.

Before computerised astronomical tools, observers often had to remain on-site and awake throughout the night over many days and weeks. The log cabin provided sleeping quarters as well as shower, bathroom and kitchen facilities. Astronomy students slept on cots in the main room, often taking turns sleeping in between assigned times in the Dome. Today, remote access to automated telescopes and devices mean astonomers can often access images from their desks around the world.

For MBO, the log cabin is now our main meeting space and we welcome many groups here, especially when the weather is less accommodating! We still use the kitchen and bathroom facilities and can access internet-connected astronomy facilities from around the world in relative comfort indoors!

6. MBO Today

MBO’s facilities have provided a space for learning and research for more than forty years, with numerous studies taking place at the Observatory since the 1970s. MBO members and researchers have contributed to the global field of astronomy, collaborating with international partners on several large-scale, international research projects.

In 2011, the site was formally taken over by MBO inc. This includes responsibility for all repairs, upkeep, and maintenance of the facilities. The site now has a new life as a community observatory.

(Click to see larger photos)

MBO are proud to provide successful programs and outreach activities led by a dedicated group of volunteers. Key achievements include:

  • A large growth in MBO Inc membership from five members to more than 700. This growing total includes 200 children and members across Victoria, New Zealand, the UK and Canada.
  • MBO’s membership is 40% female.
  • To date, more that 50 000 people have participated in our public events, both live and online.
  • Running an innovative Young Observer program focused on providing pathways into STEM careers.
  • Successful local and Federal government grant applications totalling $45,000, including two Federal “Building Stronger Community” and two National Science Week grants.
  • Maintaining productive relationships with key astronomy institutions including Scienceworks, all Melbourne-based astronomy research departments, and partnerships with two Australian Research Council “Centres of Excellence”.
    From its academic beginnings in 1972, Mount Burnett Observatory is now a thriving, innovative community observatory.
    We are glad to welcome you here!

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