At Phillip Island Observatory, See Real Stars, Not Celebrities


Rowan Wales from Phillip Island Observatory has always had an interest in astronomy. Following a serious back injury he decided to turn this interest into a commercial venture.

After starting with telescopes, he decided to purchase an observatory which is now established in his large garden in Rhyll, Phillip Island.

Rhyll is a perfect site for the observatory as it is only one-off what is termed “perfect darkness”, obviously ideal for viewing the night skies.

The Phillip Island Observatory, Phillip Island

Phillip Island Observatory

(photo courtesy of Phillip Island Observatory)

A tour starts with telescopes on the lawn, looking at the stars most familiar to us, such as the Southern Cross.

Visitors then move to the planetarium.

The 5 metre diameter mobile planetarium, made from durable tent-like material, was made to order for Rowan in Ukraine. It is the only one of its kind in Australia. The inner walls are covered with a highly reflective material to optimise the video viewing.

Video of the night sky is projected onto a curved mirror which has 99.94 reflection and then beamed around the dome.

Being mobile, the planetarium can be dismantled and moved to schools, for example, to give children a wonderful experience of the universe.

The observatory, made of fibreglass, is 3.5 metres in diameter and 3 metres high. The top (dome) is on wheels to allow for rotation so the whole sky can be viewed.

Phillip Island Observatory has three telescopes – an 8” Orion Astrograph telescope for photography, a 12” Dobson for visual, and a 9 1/4 “ Schmit-Cassegrain telescope. The Schmit-Cassegrain telescope is computerised and is specifically for viewing planets and nebulae.

Find it a bit hard to look through a telescope with a single eye? Rowan has binoviewers – like binoculars but with a single viewing point -  which are more comfortable and help eliminate eyestrain.

What can you see through the telescopes? You can see stars, star clusters, planets and galaxies. Discover that Alpha Centauri is actually not one star, but a cluster of three stars. Look at the Eta Carina nebula, a mass of beautiful colours.

The Horse Head Nebula in the night sky as seen from Phillip Island Observatory

Horse Head Nebula

(photo courtesy of Phillip Island Observatory)

Rowan can show you live videos of the night sky – an amazing experience.

Astrophotography is also a hobby for Rowan. Visitors can see his photos of the night sky on a screen.

Phillip Island Observatory takes bookings for up to 10 adults. It is a personal tour for your group only, not mixed with other groups. Although all children are different, generally children need to be over 8 years of age to benefit from the experience.

During the summer months the observatory tour starts at 9.00pm and at 7.00pm in the winter and lasts from 2 to 3 hours.

Some famous observatories around the world include Greenwich Observatory in London, now a museum of astronomy. Located on the Prime Meridian and Greenwich Meridian Time, it is used for global time zones.

Mauna Kea Observatory in Hawaii is situated on top of a volcano, happily an extinct one!

The Paranal Observatory in the Atacama Desert in Chile, by total light-collecting area, is the largest optical infrared observatory in the southern hemisphere – second in the world to the Mauna Kea Observatory in Hawaii. Having lived in the Atacama Desert for four years, I can attest to the clear skies!

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