FTS closed due to recent fires
As many people will be aware, South East Australia has been hit by a number of bushfires over the past couple of weeks. New South Wales, where Faulkes Telescope South is located, has been badly hit and over the weekend, the fires reached Siding Spring Observatory (SSO).
Thankfully, all staff at the observatory were evacuated safely, and there have been no reports of casualties. Some of the buildings at SSO were not so lucky but it seems that the telescopes at the observatory have survived the fires with hopefully minimal damage.
A site visit is needed to ascertain how Faulkes Telescope South has fared, but preliminary reports from LCOGT's staff member on site have been positive and we have hopefully escaped the worst. However, he does report that power to the mountain is down and probably will be for the foreseeable future and access to site will probably not be permitted for several days. Fires still threaten the area and the weather forecast is not helpful.
It looks likely therefore that FTS will be out of action for the next few weeks, but we will keep users updated as and when we have more information.
LCOGT's webcam at SSO actually recorded the bushfires as they swept through the observatory site, and can be seen at Amanda Bauer's excellent blog here: http://amandabauer.blogspot.com.au/2013/01/siding-spring-observatory-fires.html . As an astronomer at the Australian Astronomical Observatory which maintains and operates several telescopes at SSO, Dr Bauer kept people up-to-date with news from the site.
Finally our thanks must go to the New South Wales Fire Servces, who have been bravely fighting to control these fires. Without their effort, the outcome for this great astronomical observatory site could have been a lot worse.