ANU Department of Astronomy

Identity area

Type of entity

University unit

Authorized form of name

ANU Department of Astronomy

Parallel form(s) of name

Standardized form(s) of name according to other rules

Other form(s) of name

  • Mount Stromlo and Siding Spring Observatories

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Description area

Dates of existence

1957 - 1998


The Department of Astronomy was established in the Research School of Physical Sciences when the Mount Stromlo Observatory became part of the Australian National University in 1957. It had since 1924 been the Commonwealth Solar Observatory. In 1946 when the Australian National University Act was passed, Richard Woolley was its director and, as a personal friend to Nugget Coombs, was well placed to argue for the inclusion of a department of astronomy and astrophysics at the fledgling university. Woolley met unexpected resistance from Mark Oliphant, the newly appointed director of the Research School of Physical Sciences who rejected the inclusion of the Observatory on the grounds of its continuing statutory responsibilities being incompatible with the structure and organisation of the school. As a compromise, Woolley would be appointed an Honorary Professor of Astronomy with the right to appoint a research fellow to his staff and supervise supervise research students, creating a de-facto Department of Astronomy. In 1954 the first Doctor of Philosophy degree awarded by the University was to one of these students, Antoni Przybylski. On Woolley's appointment as Astronomer Royal in 1955 the University administration agreed to incorporate the Observatory into the University and establish a Professor of Astronomy who would also act as its Director. The Mount Stromlo Observatory Act 1956 gave effect to this change and the observatory was renamed the Mount Stromlo Observatory and made a department within the research school. By 1962, the expanding Canberra population made it clear that a better site needed to be found. The decision was made to establish a permanent ‘field station’ rather than totally relocate the observatory. Siding Spring (near Coonabarabran) was officially opened on 5 April 1965. The department was renamed the Mount Stromlo and Siding Spring Observatories (MSSSO) and became an Institute of Advanced Studies centre in 1986. In 1998 it became the Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics.


Legal status

Functions, occupations and activities

Mandates/sources of authority

Internal structures/genealogy

Director, Commonwealth Observatory
• Sir Richard van der Reit Woolley: December 1939 – December 1955
• Acting Commonwealth Astronomer, Professor Arthur Robert Hogg: December 1955 – March 1957
Professor of Astronomy
• Professor Bart Jan Bok: 1957 – 1966
• Professor Olin J. Eggen: 1966 – 1977
• Acting Director, Professor Donald S. Mathewson: 1977 – 1979
• Professor Donald S. Mathewson: 1979 – 1986
• Acting Director, Professor Alexander W. Rodgers: 1986 – 1987
• Professor Alexander W. Rodgers: 1987 – 1992
• Acting Director, Dr Donald Faulkner: 1992 – 1993
• Dr Jeremy R. Mould: 1993 – 1998

General context

Relationships area

Related entity

Research School of Physics and Engineering (1948 -)

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Description of relationship

Related entity

Commonwealth Solar Observatory (1924 - 1957)

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Dates of the relationship

Description of relationship

Related entity

Woolley, Richard van der Riet (1906 - 1986)

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Associated with

Dates of the relationship

1950 - 1955

Description of relationship

Professor of Astronomy

Access points area


Control area

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Dates of creation, revision and deletion

Created by Maggie Shapley 14 February 2013




ANU Heritage website:
Tom Frame and Don Faulkner, Stromlo: An Australian Observatory, Allen & Unwin, 2003

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