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Our Parkes radio telescope has been in operation for more than 50 years. Thanks to regular upgrades, it continues to be at the forefront of discovery.
Just outside the town of Parkes in the central-west region of New South Wales, about 380 kilometres from Sydney, is our Parkes radio telescope. It's one of three instruments that make up the Australia Telescope National Facility.
Parkes radio telescope is an icon of Australian science, and one part of the Australia Telescope National Facility.
With a diameter of 64 metres, Parkes is one of the largest single-dish telescopes in the southern hemisphere dedicated to astronomy. It started operating in 1961, but only its basic structure has remained unchanged. The surface, control system, focus cabin, receivers, computers and cabling have all been upgraded – some parts many times – to keep the telescope at the cutting edge of radio astronomy. The telescope is now 10 000 times more sensitive than when it was commissioned.
The Parkes radio telescope is an icon of Australian science. Its large dish surface makes the telescope very sensitive and it is ideally suited to finding pulsars, rapidly spinning neutron stars the size of a small city. Half of the more than 2000 known pulsars have been found using the Parkes telescope.
The introduction of a multibeam receiver, a revolutionary instrument designed and built by CSIRO, has enabled Parkes to be used for large-scale surveys of the sky. These surveys include the HI Parkes All-Sky Survey that found over 2500 new galaxies in our local region, and the Galactic All-Sky Survey that successfully mapped the hydrogen gas in our Galaxy in high detail.
While it is operated primarily for astronomy research, the Parkes telescope has a long history of being contracted by NASA and other international space agencies to track and receive data from spacecraft:
The fictional film 'The Dish' was based on the real role that the Parkes telescope played in receiving video footage of the first Moon walk by the crew of Apollo 11 in 1969.
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