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Australia's Iconic Parkes Telescope Turns 50

samzenpus posted more than 2 years ago | from the dish-down-under dept.

Australia 30

angry tapir writes "It is rare for a piece of scientific equipment to hold a place in a nation's heart. But 'The Dish' — the CSIRO's Parkes radio telescope — has in its 50 years come to mean a lot more to Australians that just a complex piece of technology. The telescope is a 64-meter diameter parabolic dish used for radio astronomy, located about 20 kilometers north of the town of Parkes, New South Wales — about 380 kilometers west of Sydney. It even has its place on the Big Screen, immortalized in the 2000 movie, The Dish. Opened on 31 October 1961, the telescope is perhaps best known to Australians for its role in the 1969 moon landing. On 8 and 9 October, the CSIRO will throw open its doors to the Australian public in celebration of its 50th anniversary."

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Best cricket pitch ever (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 2 years ago | (#37636326)

Much easier to retrieve the ball.

Re:Best cricket pitch ever (1)

Dark Lord of Ohio (2459854) | more than 2 years ago | (#37636580)

imagine a snooker or pool table made of parabolic dish and pocket in the center of it... or a soccer field...

Re:Best cricket pitch ever (1)

thogard (43403) | more than 2 years ago | (#37646902)

Was that the geekiest scenes out of the movie The Dish [] ? No geek movie library is complete without this movie. Has any movie based on true facts ever included a conversation about NASA getting their numbers wrong?

From an online script:
Every coordinate in this book has been changed.
Yeah? I changed them.
You what?
I changed them.
Because they were wrong.
Why were they wrong?
I don't know.
No, what about them was wrong?
The figures NASA sent us were for the Northern Hemisphere. And we're in the Southern Hemisphere.

Pulsars (4, Interesting)

William Robinson (875390) | more than 2 years ago | (#37636338)

From Wikipedia:

More than half of currently known pulsars were discovered by the Parkes Observatory.

That is commendable. Should have been part of summary.

Re:Pulsars (0)

Lucractius (649116) | more than 2 years ago | (#37636662)

Yes... but this is /. Where such insight no longer has a place in the summary.

Re:Pulsars (3, Interesting)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 2 years ago | (#37636674)

It may have something to do with the sky being divided into northern and southern hemispheres. If there were two telescopes doing this work one would be in each hemisphere.

Re:Pulsars (1)

Joce640k (829181) | more than 2 years ago | (#37636776)

It could be on the equator and the rotation of the Earth would do the rest. /Joderell Bank radio telescope was visible from my schoolyard...

The Right Stuff. (2)

niktemadur (793971) | more than 2 years ago | (#37636688)

First thing that came to mind was Aborigines gathered around a bonfire, playing the didgeridoo as John Glenn passes overhead, specifically Parkes being part of the tracking network since the Mercury Program. But it seems that no, the historically correct stations would be Honeysuckle, Tidbinbilla, Muchea and Carnarvon.

Re:The Right Stuff. (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37636918)

First thing that came to mind was Aborigines gathered around a bonfire, sniffing petrol


Re:The Right Stuff. (1)

rossdee (243626) | more than 2 years ago | (#37637126)

The Abos had to invent fire for themselves, they didn't have a (1*4*9) black monolith to teach them like the natives of africa

anyway all the petrolheads are gathered around Mt Panorama this weekend..

Say was this telescope named after Parkes Lucas Beynon Harris (more commonly knwn by his first two names "John Wynham"

Re:The Right Stuff. (1)

SleazyRidr (1563649) | more than 2 years ago | (#37638756)

Careful with that. There's a time and a place to sniff petrol, and around a bonfire isn't it!

Re:The Right Stuff. (1)

niktemadur (793971) | more than 2 years ago | (#37642542)

There's a story about a chaotic, badly-run gas station in my neighborhood, hopefully someone here on /. can clarify if the following story has elements of urban legend.

Around ten years ago, as said gas station was being rebuilt on a deadline and way behind schedule, one of the workers got quite sprayed by leftover petrol while dismantling the piping system, was advised to change but as he had no spare clothes, he said "Nah, I'm fine".
A few hours later the shift ended, and the workers brought out the six packs and lit a bonfire in a contiguous vacant lot (you can see where this is going). The soaked worker approached the fire to rearrange the logs, sparks flew when wood bumped against wood... and the guy caught fire.

As the story goes, the guy's clothes were soaked several hours before, can the fibers remain that volatile?

As for the gas station, ten years later it remains halfway built, construction suddenly stopped, and a day or two later I heard about the fatal accident through the grapevine (I was manager of another gas station at that time), yet I neglected to look for the story in the local newspaper.

Re:The Right Stuff. (1)

SleazyRidr (1563649) | more than 2 years ago | (#37642898)

Well, the components of fuel that burn the fastest also evaporate the fastest, so it doesn't sound likely to me. Although I suppose in the tanks heavier components could build up, but I wouldn't consider it likely.

Re:The Right Stuff. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37657138)

Could be linked to the job, a guy working on stuff like that is likely to accumulate oil on his clothes anyway. The cause being the petroleum volatiles doesn't pass muster though.

Re:The Right Stuff. (1)

quenda (644621) | more than 2 years ago | (#37646764)

as John Glenn passes overhead, specifically Parkes being part of the tracking network since the Mercury Program. But it seems that no,

Mercury was low orbit. You do not need a 64 metre dish to talk to a guy just a few hundred km away.
Apollo capsules went a thousand times further away.

Re:The Right Stuff. (1)

Pseudonym (62607) | more than 2 years ago | (#37659368)

Parkes also wasn't fully operational at the time of Glenn's obit.

Re:The Right Stuff. (1)

Pseudonym (62607) | more than 2 years ago | (#37659358)

Not quite. The one that David Gulpilil's character danced around was indeed Muchea. All of the others are post-Mercury era: Carnarvon was built for Gemini, and Orroral Valley, Honeysuckle Creek and Tidbinbilla were built for Apollo. And, of course, Tidbinbilla is the only station still open.

mod 3o3n (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37636760)

We'll 3e ab7e to '*BSD Sux0rs'. This standpoint, I don't America. You,

Mod parent (1)

Sun (104778) | more than 2 years ago | (#37637428)

-1 non-intelligible

I know, don't complain about lack of options, but sometimes I wish /.'s moderation system had better resolution...

Off topic (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37637310)

What in the world does this have to do with the male penis. Come on /. try o stay on topic. If it doesn't deal with the male phallus, government, fags, or how stupid and bigoted everyone from the south is, it does not belong on /..

Re:Off topic (1)

SleazyRidr (1563649) | more than 2 years ago | (#37638772)

Well, we're a lot further south than you're probably thinking, and the article is about how we're stupid and bigoted enough to have a 50-year-old telescope.

Brian Schmidt's Nobel Prize may add new funding (2)

G3ckoG33k (647276) | more than 2 years ago | (#37637346)

Brian Schmidt's Nobel Prize may add or at least secure new or continued funding. Nobel Prizes tend to make politicians softer. Which is good, of course! :)

Here is an article about Brian []

Good On Ya Ozzies! (1)

RapidEye (322253) | more than 2 years ago | (#37638034)

Its great that it was there for some ground breaking radio astronomy work, the Apollo 11 landing, but that is also continues to provide good scientific data!
I'm sure the core receivers and computer systems have been replaced/upgraded a dozen times over the years, but I'd bet some old engineer on site probably still has the original vacuum tube signal processing gear sitting in a back room.
Tip of the Fozzies to ya.
Ozzy, Ozzy, Ozzy, Oi, Oi, Oi!!!

Re:Good On Ya Ozzies! (1)

ashridah (72567) | more than 2 years ago | (#37640000)

The directors commentary on the dish suggests that a lot of the old equipment was just sitting around in a spare room, and all they had to do to get the sets setup was just push it into the right place, if memory serves (been a while since i watched it, but perhaps it's time to watch it again)

Re:Good On Ya Ozzies! (1)

daffmeister (602502) | more than 2 years ago | (#37643772)

That's true. I worked there in the late 80's and several bits of obsolete gear was just sitting around. Most notable was a perspex hemisphere about two feet across which was part of the original pointing system (since upgraded several times). You can see that in the film.

Soft Spot (1)

TekWare (1792534) | more than 2 years ago | (#37638348)

I have a soft spot for this telescope. The Dish is one of my favourite, feel good movies. Happy birthday Parkes!

I've been there! (1)

spaceyhackerlady (462530) | more than 2 years ago | (#37640250)

When I went to Australia a few years ago one of my must sees was The Dish. I got a good deal on a one-way car rental from Melbourne to Sydney and went exploring.

The people at Parkes showed me a very good time. They were mapping pulsars in the Large Magellanic Cloud when I was there. I had my first naked-eye view of Alpha Centauri and the Southern Cross from the plane, but had my first decent view of the Eta Carinae region from St. Kilda Beach in Melbourne. The Magellanic Clouds had to wait; I first saw them from the countryside near Echuca, Victoria.

I stayed a couple of nights in Forbes, NSW, which played Parkes in The Dish. Parkes itself is all strip malls and fast food joints now, and it would be difficult to make a movie set in 1969 there. As an astronomer I hit Coonabarabran and drove up to Siding Spring. As a fan of aussie TV I hit Barwon Heads (Seachange) and saw Goat Island (Water Rats) from one of the harbour ferries.

I spent an afternoon at the public library a few years ago and was amused to see The Dish (then under construction) as a feature article in Sky & Telescope the month I was born.


Good on ya! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37640474)

The Parkes Radio Telescope has discovered about half of the known pulsars, was instrumental in getting clear broadcasts from the moon, and has played an important role in studying the sky in the hemisphere of the southern cross. So grab a cold one, put a dog on the barbie, and stick your chest out till your buttons pop! Good on ya!

popular scientific equipment (1)

AdamWill (604569) | more than 2 years ago | (#37641058)

"It is rare for a piece of scientific equipment to hold a place in a nation's heart."

I can think of at least one other similar example; the site at Jodrell Bank is pretty popular in the U.K., especially in the local area. It's a well-visited tourist spot and there was quite a lot of news locally when there was a possibility of it shutting down a few years back.

They run Linux (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37646610)

I just got back from visiting The Dish today. I had a peek at their computer systems. They have a mixed environment of Windows 7 and Linux (probably Red Hat, judging by the icons). They were running Xfce and IceWM. They obviously weren't too keen on GnomeShell.

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