Learmonth Solar Observatory

Located 34 km south of Exmouth is the Learmonth Solar Observatory. Comprising a collection of white buildings, a suite of optical telescopes, parabolic dish antennae, the observatory stands atop the sand dunes, with horizon to horizon views of the sun throughout the day. The observatory is part of a world-wide network which monitors solar activity 24 hours a day at optical and radio wavelengths. Learmonth was selected because of the large amounts of sunshine available (in excess of 3,500 hours per year) and because of relatively little radio frequency interference which might affect the sensitive receiving equipment.

The facility is jointly managed by the IPS Radio and Space Services which is part of the Australian Bureau of Meteorology, and the United States Air Force Weather Agency (AFWA). There are a total of 15 personnel employed on site performing observation, analysis, maintenance, secretarial and management functions. Observatory staff is drawn from IPS Radio & Space Services consisting of two space weather physicists and one administrative officer; and 11 personnel from AFWA providing analytical and maintenance support. Local companies also perform site and equipment maintenance.

There is a wide range of activities and systems which are affected by solar activity. Examples include short-wave broadcasting, high frequency communications, satellite operations, manned space flights, geophysical exploration, electricity distribution, long pipeline corrosions and bird migration. High frequency communications probably represent the largest group that is affected by solar disturbance. In Australia this includes Telstra, Optus, OTC, Royal Flying Doctor Service, the Army, Navy and Air Force, the Police, local government agencies such as the Water Authority, State Fire Brigades, Emergency Services, Airlines and general aviation.

Since opening in April 1979, it has been the responsibility of the Learmonth Solar Observatory to observe the sun from sunrise to sunset, 365 days of a year, and to report on any activity which may be of significance to human activities on the earth and in space. Activity reports are dispatched promptly to space weather forecast centres in the USA and Australia. Data is also archived for use by scientific researchers throughout the world. Various national and international experiments are also hosted at LSO including the Global Oscillation Network Group (GONG) which is conducting a detailed study of internal structure and motions of the Sun using helioseismology.