When the sun sets and the stars reveal themselves, you will find one group of amateur astronomers in Park Ridge settling into a nice drop of port while they lay in wait for the wonders of space to unfold.
This, they say, is custom for any night of stargazing or ‘observing’, which they meet for once or twice a month at a patch of acreage dubbed the Park Ridge Observatory.
“If it gets late in the night and you feel like an ale or refreshment, generally beer is frowned upon, and it’s generally an accepted practice for astronomers to drink port,” says Mr Pidgeon, who owns the acreage where they meet.
Mr Pidgeon has been into astronomy for the last 40 years. By day, he also manages Sirius Optics, a vendor of high tech telescopes and astronomy equipment.
He runs the observatory site from his family’s property in Park Ridge, which offers one of the better vantage points to view space from because it is largely unspoiled by manmade light.
“Anywhere from Park Ridge running south in Logan, towards Jimboomba, and going towards Beaudesert still has reasonably dark sky there, so people can enjoy a good night time viewing.
“Once we start getting to some of the northern suburbs and getting into Brisbane, it becomes a bit difficult, not impossible, but just more difficult.”
Right now, Mr Pidgeon uses his site largely for social sessions with other amateur astronomers, but he hopes to one day make it more public.
One of his plans is to install a commercial-grade telescope, which he will use to assist professional scientific discovery and as an educational tool for the community.
“That’s one of my goals, to educate people a bit more and share the passion with them about what’s up there in the night sky,” he says.
“At some stage, by invitation only, we’ll probably have people around there and just setting them up and teaching and showing them how to do astronomy.”
Mr Pidgeon also sees it as an opportunity to give the area another drawcard.
“Park Ridge has always been that rural, country-fringe area, and we want to get attractions in the city, or we want to get places that people talk about, so there was a little bit of a sneaky thing as well to try and see if we could get Park Ridge Observatory on Google and on the maps, which we have,” says Mr Pidgeon.
Peter Marples is a long-time friend of his, who is credited by the International Astronomical Union for discovering 15 supernovas – some of which he identified using a telescope from his former home in Underwood.
Mr Marples says amateur astronomy plays a big role in assisting scientific discovery.
“There are certain things that the professional astronomer just hasn’t got the time to do, and in finding supernova like we’ve done, in order to do that, we’ve had to put in thousands and thousands of hours of observing time,” says Mr Marples.
“[That is] Completely out of the picture for professional astronomers – they just haven’t got the time to do that.
“So to some degree, they rely on amateur discoverers who are keen, and who’ve got a real passion for astronomy, who can put time into some of these projects, which can then feed back into professional work.”
For more information, contact Phil on 0450 517 179