The stars are all there (even when you can't see them)...


Yesterday I was running on, up, down, around and over Mt Stromlo exploring new options for one of the mountain bike legs of the epic Sri Chinmoy Triple-Triathlon to be staged for the 10th time in and around Canberra on Sunday 26 November.

There is a famous space observatory along the top of Mt Stromlo, which is just outside the city of Canberra. The observatory, founded in the 1920s and part of the Australian National University's Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics, once owned several historic space telescopes, each housed in large white domes facing various quadrants of the sky.

On 18 January 2003, a severe bush fire (pictured, approaching) raged up and over Mt Stromlo. Eye-witnesses described the fire literally roaring up the western slope of the mountain, fanned by gale-force winds and scorching temperatures; the air was too hot even to breath and fleeing birds fell dead to the ground. Two people died on the mountain that day, and the observatory was obliterated...


Like the trees on the mountainside, the observatory is now slowly regenerating, sprouting new buildings. Yet aside from the new structures, the concrete shells of some of the original telescope domes have been preserved as memorials, silent hollow sentinels on the still bare mountaintop.

Yesterday evening, having laboured all the way up the hill on foot and ripe for respite, I was drawn to enter one of these eerie skeletal domes.

The moment I set foot inside, an involuntary gasp escaped my gaping mouth and wide upturned face. Stars and galaxies arrested my breath. I stood transfixed - transported to a world of wonder and awe.


Before me a massive concrete structure that had supported the telescope beckoned heavenward, through the opening in the shell of the dome. Time vanished as I gazed in rapture through the immense lens at the wonders of the universe. For how many hundreds of hours, the imaginations of astronomers and students had soared right here through timeless winter nights peering questfully into the Beyond... It was as though the powers of the heavens were concentrated in that place - consecrated for decades to the contemplation of the mysteries beyond us - and seared by a moment's cataclysm into the spot for ever.

The telescope and everything but the bare concrete was gone, but the spirit of the place, its immersion in the wonder of the cosmos, was palpable: the fireball had been too sudden and too intense for it to flee.

It was afternoon, the sun was shining and there was no telescope; yet hearkening to the whispered purrings of far-distant stars, I could almost reach up and stroke them.

Yes, the stars are certainly all there (even when you can't see them)...