Growing up, Jesse Stout remembers learning about astronomy from his dad.
- The Astronomical Society of Victoria have opened a new all-abilities accessible observatory
- The new site features overnight accomodation and specially designed telescopes that are easier to access
- Around 12 per cent of the ASV's members have a disability
"When I was younger my father used to take us out camping and that was probably the first time I was introduced to astronomy," he said.
"We used to look up at the stars and my father used to point out things – I'm not too sure how accurate he was."
But a life-changing workplace accident in 2018 saw him rethink how he saw himself, and rediscover an old interest.
"A lot of my hobbies before my accident were very, very active, so camping, going to the beach or surfing," he said.
"The ASV has allowed me to explore my new hobby and be positive about a new element in my life – I think that's a very, very hard thing to express when you've got a disability."
Building new Pathways to the Planets
Late last year, as he recovered from a second surgery on his back, Jesse's partner and family decided to pool their money to buy him a telescope.
Excited to try it out, Jesse soon discovered having to manoeuvre himself around the equipment came with a very painful drawback, that could leave him in pain for days afterwards.
Looking around for groups to join, he found the Astronomical Society of Victoria's (ASV) Pathways to the Planets project, trying to raise funds to make their sites and equipment more accessible for people with varying levels of mobility.
With around 12 per cent of its members having some sort of disability, ASV Vice president Mark Iscaro said it was stories like Jesse's that inspired them.
"If there are people who've got sight issues, they should still be able to feel the night sky, whether that's through 3D-printed star maps, and those with mobility issues shouldn't be prevented from coming up and seeing the stars."
Stargazing in comfort
Now, in the year of their 100th anniversary, the society has opened an all-abilities accessible observatory at the Leon Mow dark sky site near Heathcote, north of Melbourne, with features such as better-lit and widened pathways, a motorised entry gate and accommodation for those staying overnight.
There are also plans to build remote-controlled astrophotography observatories for people who can't physically travel to the site, or use an eyepiece.
The main attraction is a specially designed telescope, altered to make the eyepiece the axis so it stays at the perfect height for a viewer sitting down.
ASV President Chris Rudge said traditional astronomical equipment wasn't always easy for everyone to use.
"Unfortunately, to use those large telescopes you have to go up a ladder, but this new telescope we've specially built so that you can sit down and look at the night sky," he said.
"We have many older members these days, including myself, who may be mobility-limited, they can just sit down and enjoy the night sky at their leisure."
'A huge element of mystery'
The telescope is the second in Victoria, with the first being in the regional town of Ballarat.
But the ASV is hoping their larger member base and more widely accessible facilities will attract more keen astronomers in the future.
Jesse was just looking forward to enjoying his hobby pain-free.
"I'll be able to use the telescope and I'll be able to look at the stars and not have to worry about the next day that I'm going to be bedridden because of the pain from bending down or moving around or adjusting my body slightly," he said.
And it has reminded him of what he loves about looking up at the skies.
"There's a huge element of mystery behind astronomy," he said.
"Being able to look up into the sky and… realising you're finding something new each time you look and the fact that a telescope can bring you even closer to finding something."