Hervey Bay astronomers reach for the stars

By Jocelyn Watts

The overwhelming success of the solar eclipse viewing on USQ Fraser Coast’s grassed area in November has inspired the Hervey Bay Astronomical Society to “reach for the stars” with more viewings and events. There is also talk of possibly building a public observatory in Hervey Bay.

 “We had a lot more people than expected attend the transit of Venus and partial eclipse in November, and after lots of positive feedback we’ve decided to hold more events this year to flag our existence and encourage more members to join us,” society president Joe Mather said.

“It has also strengthened our long-term dream to build a public observatory in Hervey Bay.

“That’s a fairly ambitious dream so we need to gauge the level of interest first, then its viability and investigate possible funding sources.”

The initial part of that process is to hold a series of public events, the first of which is an astronomy night this Saturday (May 4) from 5.45pm to 8.30pm in USQ Fraser Coast’s car park at 161 Old Maryborough Road, Hervey Bay.

“The evening will start with a 10-minute presentation in a lecture hall, while there is still some light in the sky to show pictures and explain what we are attempting to find. Then we will show people how to use averted vision techniques to see distant galaxies and gas nebulae when normal central focusing shows nothing in the eyepiece.”

Mr Mather said Mayor Gerard O’Connell, councillors and other VIPs would be invited to attend the evening with their families.

“We encourage families to make a night of it and bring along fish and chips or other snacks to eat.”

Following this Saturday’s event, local dignitaries and state and interstate professionals will be invited to attend the society’s observing nights at Robert and Jan Jocumsen’s Takura Observatory and its monthly meetings.

“The observing nights are held on Saturdays closest to a new moon and begin with a short workshop on fixing/aligning/repairing astronomical telescopes, followed by a barbecue and chin-wag while the scope temperatures stabilise. Then we enjoy many hours viewing deep space nebulae, remnants of dead stars, globular clusters and whatever else we can find.

“Our meetings are held in USQ Fraser Coast’s Room C205 at USQ on Wednesdays, two weeks after Observing nights.

“Besides presentations on astro-photography, latest NASA discoveries and Astral DVDs, we encourage members to pass on any specialised knowledge they have to the rest of the group such as servo-controlled telescopes which automatically point to thousands or astronomical objects held in their data-bases, or Wi-Fi control using Planetarium software running on smartphones and/or tablets, or just plain telescope maintenance.

Meeting dates can be found at the group’s website at http://www.hbastro.net, along with pictures of past nights, shots of the Takura Observatory and examples of long time-base and stacked shots of deep space objects.

WHEN: Saturday, May 4 from 5.45pm to 8.30pm.

WHERE: USQ Fraser Coast, 161 Old Maryborough Rd, Hervey Bay.

COST: Free, but gold coin donations to cover costs are most welcome

For more information log into www.hbastro.net, email info@hbastro.net, or phone 0419 461 532.


Hervey Bay Astronomical Society

From a casual group of observing enthusiast in 2008 to incorporation as the Hervey Bay Astronomical Society Incorporated in January 2010, the group has retained deep interests in the cosmos, night sky observing, the science of astronomy, and astro-photography.

Hervey Bay Astronomical Society holds one dark sky observing session and one education night each month, as well as special public events such as the November Solar Eclipse Viewing at USQ Fraser Coast.

Group membership varies from beginners to advanced astronomers but all have the same passion for astronomy and teaching others about the wonders in the day and night skies.

Interested people are welcome to attend a meeting to assess if it is something from which they could enjoy and learn information they can pass on to others.

Floods deliver scientific data

USQ Research - Estuaries

USQ’s Dr Joachim Ribbe lowers research equipment into Hervey Bay waters. Photo: JOCELYN WATTS

By Jocelyn Watts

There is a silver lining to recent Fraser Coast floods – the surge of fresh water entering Hervey Bay is providing valuable data for University of Southern Queensland (USQ) and Griffith University research.

USQ’s Associate Professor in Climatology Dr Joachim Ribbe, USQ PhD student Daniel Briewa and scientist Johann Gustafson from Griffith University recently measured the Bay’s water temperature, salinity, turbidity and underwater light as part of an ongoing research project and found this year’s floods provided important information.

“Our main interest is to understand how the oceanic circulation of water moves from one place to another and Hervey Bay’s estuaries and marine life respond to flood and drought events,” Dr Ribbe said.

“This research is particularly important for the sustainable natural resource management of the region. For example, fish larvae are found in estuaries and being non-mobile, they float in water and ocean circulations determine where they go.

“Some years ago sea scallops were brought to larvae stage on land and released into the ocean. Fisheries were to go out many months later but where the larvae went was a mystery.

“That’s the type of knowledge we needed that motivated us to do this work and we continued from there on. It’s been ongoing since 2004 with funding from a range of sources including the Wide Bay Catchment Management Authority. Several publications have already been produced with international collaborators.”

Dr Ribbe said he was among the several scientists who have studied Australian coastal environments and estuaries of significance, including Hervey Bay, and contributed published books such as Climate Alert, Climate Change Monitoring and Strategy published by Sydney University Press.

“My research includes tracking the freshwater discharges from all Hervey Bay estuaries within the Bay itself,” Dr Ribbe said.

“Australia’s estuaries are many and varied. They’re in different climate zones with different patterns and characteristics – some are very wet, others very dry.

“The Hervey Bay region is of special interest because it’s recognised as one of Australia’s most biodiverse marine environments. Including the Great Sandy Strait, it’s referred to as the Great Sandy Biosphere.

“Hervey Bay is classed as a bay but it has the characteristics of an inverse estuary (on a large scale) due to evaporation being higher than precipitation and river runoff. Because very little fresh water came into the Bay during the 10-year drought before 2009, it became inverse more frequently with a near shore high salinity zone and the ocean appears to be fresher (less salt).

“That has implications on how water is being exchanged throughout the whole system. Classical estuaries flush quickly but with inverted estuaries, it takes much longer for water to reach the ocean.  That impacts on the ecology, for example with pollutants. There was a sewerage plant accident here a few weeks ago. Sewerage came into the system and being an inverted estuary, it potentially stays here for a longer period.

Dr Ribbe said that with heavy rain in the past two years and now the recent flooding, a lot of fresh water was flowing into the Bay.

“As that water flushes out of the Bay it will lower salinity,” he said.

“What we did on our recent visit was try to find the front between salty Hervey Bay water and the freshwater. We’re studying how long it sits there and how long it takes the Bay’s system to get back to its normal state.”

USQ Research - Estuaries

Dr Joachim Ribbe checks data as it comes to hand. Photo: JOCELYN WATTS


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Rocks vision for Portside gateway

Entertainment and heritage will combine to ensure Maryborough’s historic Portside Precinct in Wharf Street continues to attract visitors to the city, according to Fraser Coast Councillor George Seymour.

“The heritage buildings and streetscapes of the precinct make a fundamental contribution to Maryborough’s image and character as well as its cultural heritage.

“Council is working with businesses within the precinct to develop it as a tourism attraction similar to The Rocks in Sydney, Richmond in Tasmania, Sovereign Hill in Ballarat and Flagstaff Hill in Warrnambool.”

In the late 1800s the area was the second most important port on the east coast after Sydney and provided a gateway for 22,000 immigrants to enter Australia.

The precinct was identified as a potential tourist attraction in The Maryborough Conservation and Tourism Study 1989 which indicated that if properly developed, “it would provide a memorable heritage experience offering entertainment and education with the potential to draw 200,000 – 250,000 visitors in the first year of operation; generating up to $1.5 million for the city.’

Since then the council has invested in footpath widening, street tree planting, installing street furniture and undergrounding electricity and other services.

The council also bought the Bond Store and developed museum displays in 1992 and the Customs House and Customs Residence in 1999.

In 2001 the council adopted the Reddacliff Report to drive economic growth which recommended catalyst projects for the Portside Precinct.

These included:

  • Development of Customs House Interpretive Centre displays;
  • Establishment of the Mary River Parklands (pictured);
  • Installation of public art and outdoor interpretive signage throughout the precinct;
  • Development and implementation of Portside Precinct brand and marketing strategy;
  • Enhancement  of the Bond Store Museum displays to include a basement sound and light show; and
  • Completion of Portside Passage and Gatakers Artspace project in 2010.

“Now that the groundwork has been done we need to bring together all of the elements and step up to the next level to make the precinct a tourist attraction,” Cr Seymour said.

Of the 754,000 visitors to the region in 2011/12, about 6000 visited the precinct.

“By integrating all of the venues together we can create something that will give people a reason to visit which will improve business viability for the precinct and the city.

“It will be marketed as the Portside Heritage Gateway and the admission price will include entrance into the Customs House Interpretive Centre, Bond Store Museum and Maryborough Military and Colonial Museum, as well as access to visitor services, tours, demonstrations, and retail and dining experiences.”

The objectives are to:

Increase tourism visitation and expenditure by 300 per cent by June 2014.

  • Improve visitor experience by providing an attraction that meets the market demand by June 2013.
  • Maximise opportunities for local and regional business to benefit from Maryborough’s heritage assets.
  • Provide opportunity for the development of community art and cultural activities including a shared workspace for craft industry within the precinct and the inclusion of community theatre and arts groups.
  • Encourage the future establishment of appropriately themed retail and hospitality businesses within the precinct to keep with the overriding heritage theme of the area.

“Some of the ideas include showcasing regional wines and incorporate wine and port tasting within the Bond Store experience,” Cr Seymour said.

“Some parts of the plan are already in place and the complete package will be in place by June ready for co-operative precinct activities around the Relish Food and Wine Fest, the Mary Poppins Festival and the June/July school holiday tourism period.”