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Time ball at Sydney Observatory, 1858
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Object statement
Time ball, with cylinder, piston, rack and pinion lifting mechanism, safety lock, electric motor and ball, cast iron, some modifications to the original, installed at Sydney Observatory, made by Maudslay, Sons & Field, England, c 1857
The time ball at the top of the tower at the front of the Observatory was the reason for the establishment of the Observatory and so is of great significance.It is still in its original condition apart from the addition of an electrical motor and some improvements made by HC Russell in the 1870s.

Before radio the only way to convey accurate time was through a visual signal. Accurate time was especially important to ships setting out on a long voyage as they needed to adjust and calibrate their chronometers, special clocks for navigation that were designed to work on a moving ship. In the 1850s Sydney was becoming a busy port with ships arriving from, and departing for, a variety of distant places. There was an urgent need for a time ball to provide accurate time for this shipping traffic. Initially only a time ball was contemplated, but soon it was realised a time ball without an observatory and an astronomer was useless. The astronomer was needed to observe the sun by day and stars at night to ensure that the ball was dropped at exactly the right time.

Built by the well known engineering firm of Maudslay Sons & Field in England, the time ball was installed in the tower of the new Observatory by June 1858 as it was first dropped on the 5th of that month at twelve noon. A few months later Rev Scott, the Government Astronomer, changed the time to 1pm for at 12 noon he was busy observing the sun crossing the north-south meridian and could not be upstairs in the tower dropping the ball.
The Time Ball consists of a cast iron cylinder, piston, rack and pinion lifting mechanism, safety lock, electric motor and ball. The cylinder is 30cm diameter and 3 m long. Approximately 7 liters of soapy water fills the bottom of the cylinder to act as a buffer for the piston. The piston is a 10cm thick block of rubber with a bleeder valve to adjust rate of descent. The rack extends from the piston to the Time Ball and is 7.5 meters long. A pinion engages into the rack by a slide gear, which enables the electric motor to raise the rack. A large hand wheel is also attached with a pawl gear to prevent back-slipping. The Time Ball is attached to the top of the rack and is raised 2.7 metres.

At 6 minutes to 1PM the pinion is engaged into the rack and the electric motor switched on. It takes approx 2 minutes and 50 seconds to raise the ball to the top of the mast. The safety lock is then engaged and the pinion is disengaged. At precisely 1PM a signal from the atomic clock disengages the safety lock, causing the Time Ball to drop. It drops approx 2 metres immediately and the back pressure in the cylinder causes it to drop the remaining distance at a slower rate.

Carey Ward 10.3.83:
The Observatory site was originally chosen because of its visibility from the harbour. The original plan was for a building to contain only the Time Ball and transit instruments, to provide a time service. The Time Ball was first dropped at mean Noon, 5th June 1858. By dec 1858 it was being dropped at 1PM as it has ever since, except Sat, Sun, and public holidays. The purpose of the Time Ball was so that ships could readjust their chronometers after spending long months at sea. At the same time the Time Ball was dropped a cannon was fired - the cannon was at Dawes Point from 1858 to 1906. It was then fired from Ft Denison, beginning on 9th Feb 1906 and was last fired on 7th Feb 1942. An electric motor was later fitted to aid in raising the ball, which was previously done by hand.

The time ball requires very little maintenace . The water is changed at 2 monthly intervals and takes 3/4-1 hr. At the same time the piston is cleaned. Lubrication of the gears is performed daily during its normal function. Powered by a 3/4 hp, 3 phase electric motor which is only on for 3 minutes daily.The job of raising the Time Ball was previously the duty of the caretaker, but since his retiremnt it is now the duty of the scientific instrument maker. The labour involved is 15 mins a day and 1hr every 2 months for maintenance. Is in generally good condition for its age

Carey Ward 10.3.83:

 This text content licensed under CC BY-NC.

Description
Time ball, with cylinder, piston, rack and pinion lifting mechanism, safety lock, electric motor and ball, cast iron, some modifications to the original, installed at Sydney Observatory, made by Maudslay, Sons & Field, England, c 1857

A yellow and black time ball made of cast iron, with a cyliner, piston, rack and pinion lifting mechanism, safety lock, electric motor and ball.

Observatory stock numbers 9 and 10.

Made: Maudslay, Sons & Field Ltd; Lambeth, England; 1858

Made: Maudslay, Sons & Field Ltd; London, England; 1858
H10401
Production date
1858

 This text content licensed under CC BY-SA.
This object belongs to:
Sydney Observatory Collection
Subjects
+ Sydney Observatory
+ Timekeeping
+ Boats
+ Navigation
+ Shipping industry
Currently on public display
+ Time Ball, Sydney Observatory
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Concise link back to this object: http://from.ph/232664
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{{cite web |url=http://from.ph/232664 |title=Time ball at Sydney Observatory |author=Powerhouse Museum |accessdate=2 November 2014 |publisher=Powerhouse Museum, Australia}}


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