Parkes, NSW (Parkes radio telescope)

  • 10 June 2005 | Updated 19 November 2012

Parkes Observatory, just outside the central-west NSW town of Parkes, hosts the 64-metre Parkes radio telescope, one of the telescopes comprising CSIRO’s Australia Telescope National Facility.

Star of the film, 'The Dish', the Parkes radio telescope has been in operation since 1961 yet continues to be at the forefront of astronomical discovery thanks to regular upgrades.

Funding & operations

Parkes Observatory is part of CSIRO's Australia Telescope National Facility. The Parkes radio telescope is an icon of Australian science.

Twenty engineers, astronomers and other personnel support visiting observers from across Australia and around the world. The telescope operates 24 hours a day, every day of the year.

Around 100 000 members of the public visit the telescope annually. The observatory has an excellent visitors' centre with two audio-visual theatres and a café – a great vantage point for viewing the telescope.

Parkes research

With a diameter of 64 metres, Parkes is the largest single-dish telescope in the southern hemisphere dedicated to astronomy. It can observe at frequencies from 0.3 to 43 gigahertz (GHz).

Its large collecting area makes it a very sensitive instrument ideally suited to finding pulsars, rapidly spinning neutron stars the size of a small city. Two-thirds of the 1,800 known pulsars, including the only binary pulsar system, were found using this telescope.

The Parkes radio telescope has operated since 1961 yet continues to be at the forefront of astronomical discovery.

One current pulsar project is the Pulsar Timing Array that may detect gravitational waves from colliding super-massive black holes.

The 13-beam Multibeam Receiver is a revolutionary instrument designed and built by ATNF for the Parkes dish. Installed in 1997, it provides unprecedented efficiency for large-scale radio surveys of the sky.

Recent surveys include HIPASS, the HI Parkes All-Sky Survey that found over 2 500 new galaxies in our local region. A new project, GASS, the Galactic All-Sky Survey is mapping the hydrogen gas in our galaxy in high detail.

Importance of Parkes Observatory

Since its opening in October 1961 the Parkes radio telescope has been an icon of Australian science. Famous for its reception of the television images of the first Moon walk in 1969, it is normally used to detect the faint radio emissions from objects in space.

The fictional film 'The Dish' was based on the real rôle that Parkes played in receiving the first video footage on the first Moon walk by the crew of Apollo 11 in 1969.

Although designed and operated as a radio telescope for astronomical observations Parkes has also been used for tracking and receiving data from many space probes.

It has contributed to other space missions including the Galileo probe to Jupiter and the various Mars missions in early 2004. In January 2005 it was a key element in a global linkup of 17 radio telescopes observing the descent of the Huygens probe through the atmosphere of Titan.

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Learn more about CSIRO's work in Astronomy & Space.