Whilst XMM-Newton delves into the hottest places in the Universe, life down
on planet Earth can sometimes also be too warm for comfort. Pictures have
become available of a bush fire that recently threatened the X-ray
observatory’s tracking station near Perth. Science operations were

ESA’s ground station is located 20 km north of the city on the western coast
of Australia. Bush fires are frequent in this region in the summer period
and February is always the warmest and driest month of the year.

The fires are also called ‘wild fires’ because strong and rapidly changing
breezes can dramatically change circumstances. That was just the case on
the morning of 14 February, Valentine’s Day, when a blaze was spotted some
10 km from the station.

Fire services quickly intervened but the easterly winds drove the fire
forwards. Jumping from the top of one tall tree to another, there was not
much to be done. By the front had crossed one dual-carriageway and was
approaching the perimeter of the tracking station.

“Nearly 300 firemen had been mobilised, with 70 vehicles,” recalls station
manager John Holt. The forty staff members present at the time were
evacuated without incident.

“In eleven years working here, I have never seen anything like it, and it
was pretty scary” recalls one of his engineers. “But we regularly clear
the land around the perimeter fence, burning the bushes and scrub land.
It was with these fire breaks, and by lighting counter-fires that the
fire services came to grips with the situation and saved our station.”

By the time it was extinguished, the fire had burnt 2200 acres (900
hectares). Its plume, stretching several hundred kilometers out to sea,
could clearly be seen by one of NOAA’s Earth observation satellites.

Situated in the Perth International Telecommunications complex, the
facility is operated for ESA’s Networks Operations Department at ESOC,
Darmstadt by the Telstra Corporation. Several large dish antennae track,
command and receive signals from various spacecraft, including XMM-Newton.
The X-ray mission has two other stations at Kourou, French Guiana and in
Santiago, Chile.

Pictures courtesy of John Holt and NOAA.


* The PERTH Ground Station: AUSTRALIA


* XMM-Newton home page



[Image 1:

Bush fire plume seen by one of NOAA’s Earth observation satellites.
Picture courtesy of John Holt and NOAA.

[Image 2:

Valentine’s Day emotions for the staff at ESA’s tracking station in Perth.
Picture courtesy of John Holt and NOAA.

[Image 3:

One of the large antennae of the ESA ground station. Picture courtesy of
John Holt and NOAA.

[Image 4:

Some 300 firemen fought the blaze. Picture courtesy of John Holt and NOAA.

[Image 5:

A pall of smoke over the station. Picture courtesy of John Holt and NOAA.