Restoring the Professor’s Telescope

Engineering and IT Collection

Over the past few years, Capstone students have helped restore the Great Melbourne Telescope, which was the brainchild of Professor William Wilson, founder of the Engineering School in 1861.

Built in Dublin to a design by the Royal Society of London, the telescope was erected at Melbourne Observatory in 1868. With a 48-inch metal mirror, it was the largest telescope in the Southern Hemisphere and the largest equatorial telescope in the world. The moving parts of the telescope weigh over 9 tonnes.

Moved to Mount Stromlo Observatory in 1945, the telescope was modernised several times, then severely damaged by the 2003 Canberra bushfires.

A project to restore the telescope and operate it for public and educational use has been underway for the past decade, led by Museums Victoria the Astronomical Society of Victoria and the Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne, now responsible for the Melbourne Observatory site.

In 2022, four capstone students – Geng Chen, Guanxu Pan, Nan Zhao and Zijian Chen – supervised by Professor Jonathan Manton, undertook a project to design an electromechanical system for the telescope. Their work will inform the restoration of the telescope and enable future electromechanical control will be invisibly embedded within the restored telescope.

A few days after observing the Transit of Venus in 1874, Professor Wilson died suddenly while marking examination papers. He would be thrilled that students from the school he established are helping rebuild his Great Melbourne Telescope.