The Dish and the great beyond

The Dish and the great beyond


[Theme music plays] (Glen Paul) G’day, and welcome
to CSIROvod, I’m Glen Paul. As you’ve probably figured with
the Dish sitting behind me there, I’m at CSIRO’s
Parkes Observatory on what is a rather windy day, which is going to make things
a little bit scary because we’re going to go
up onto the Dish. We’re fortunate today that the Dish is
not actually doing any observations, so we can take our camera equipment
inside the Dish for a look around. It was only going to be a
small window of opportunity while the receiver
was being changed. Receivers are changed because each
operates at a different frequency, so when you change between
research projects you need to match the
receiver to suit the work a particular
Scientist is doing. We were told we’d have
about an hour or so to have a look around the Dish while
the technicians completed their work. Normally you wouldn’t be able
to take a video camera inside because the Dish is so sensitive that the small amount of
radio emissions generated by the electric motor
inside the camera could interfere
with the telescope. But before we took the tour I thought it best if we find
out a bit more about the Dish, so I asked Research Project
Officer, John Sarkissian, why the Dish is so good
at doing what it does. (John Sarkissian) There are several
reasons why the Dish is so good at discovering pulses
and other objects too, and one of the main reasons,
our location in the world. The centre of the Milky Way passes
directly overhead from this location, and so the richest and
most interesting parts of the Milky Way Galaxy
are accessible to us, they’re directly overhead,
and we see them at their best and in the
strongest, if you like, and we’re able to do world leading
radio astronomy with the telescope. (Glen Paul) It certainly looks
impressive sitting there in the field, and I was keen now to
emulate the actors who portrayed CSIRO staff in the
Apollo II mission movie, The Dish. Well is probably is the
world’s most expensive ride, but here I am sitting on the
Dish and we’re going up, and it’s going to be
quite a view no doubt. I feel a bit like a character
out of The Dish movie, where Sam Neill was sitting
in this exact same spot overlooking the sheep paddocks,
as you can see beyond me there. The ride up provides
a great view, but you soon realise as the
outer edge of the Dish rises, you’re no longer sitting
looking down at your feet, so you have to remember
to turn around if you don’t want to find
yourself rolling backwards down into the
centre of the Dish. Well here I am on
top of the Dish, all I need now is my
cricket bat and ball and I can recreate the
entire Dish movie scene. But no time for cricket today the CSIRO technicians still had
work to do above on the receiver, and were preparing for
the climb upwards. So here on top of the
Dish obviously we’re about 40 metres above the ground and
it’s a bit windy and a bit rainy, and also a bit scary as the Dish
tends to vibrate a little bit here and there, and
at any time you just feel like you’re going
to fall through it and end up down there
on the ground somewhere. But of course that
was all in my mind. The structure itself is
actually very strong, and the CSIRO staff
who work here aren’t bothered at all by
walking around on it. With the technicians
continuing their work above we weren’t going to get a nice
easy ride down on the Dish, so it was through the hatch
and onto the ladders. This would take us through the
heart of the original structure. If you think this looks like
the inside of a battleship, rather than a radio telescope,
well you’re not far off. The company that
built this section also specialised in
ships and submarines. A few more ladders and we were onto the lattice
work of the 300 tonne Dish. Getting closer to the ground. It certainly is an
impressive radio telescope and has achieved much since its
opening back in the early ’60s, but with that in mind,
what of its future? (John Sarkissian) The telescope was
commissioned back in October 1961, but when it was built
it was only intended to have a life of about
20 years or so. The fact that we’ve almost
more than doubled that is quite amazing, and the
reason for that of course is because we’ve continually upgraded
the telescope over the years, so that today the telescope is
10,000 times more sensitive than when it was built, and that’s
allowed Astronomers to continue to use it to make
great discoveries, to do great science,
and to remain at the very forefront of world
radio astronomy. The future of the telescope
is quite bright because there’ll still be a need for
an instrument like this. And again because of our
location in the world, the fact that we see
the most interesting parts of the Milky Way overhead, and so on, means that
we’ll probably have many more years of productive
life ahead of the telescope. The next generation
radio telescopes that the radio astronomy
community is planning will be many, many times larger
than the Parkes telescope in terms of surface
area and sensitivity, but nonetheless this
telescope will still have an important role to
play in radio astronomy and in the research that we do. So we’re hopeful that
this telescope has many more years of productive
life ahead of it still. So that’s the famous Dish, and if you’d like to find
out more about the work that goes on here at Parkes just check
out our website at www.csiro.au.

10 thoughts on “The Dish and the great beyond

  • CSIRO Parkes, as far as I know — still the largest dish in the Southern Hemisphere … with one dish in South Africa maybe being nearest in size to it. For this reason alone, separate from it being part of a subnet of dishes … Parkes will have many years of use.

  • Loved the movie the Dish, such an incredible human achievement to track missions to the moon, as well as receiving images that will always be treasured. Two great uncles served on US Navy subs based out of Fremantle and loved the people as well as the area, Perth etc. Unfortunately both were lost when their subs were destroyed in enemy action, or they may would have settled down in WA after the war. The moon missions were another great cooperative work between the US and Australia

  • is there a radio dead zone around the dish? i cant imagine telstra would have any towers nearby

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