Leaving Coonabarabran on day 3 we headed north to Narrabri to visit the Australia Telescope National Facility.

Day 3 of #dishtour. Heading to Narrabri to see the Sydney University Stellar Interferometer (SUSI). Hoping the air conditioning holds out. 7:34 AM Nov 21st, 2009

It was really hot this day, around 44 degrees or so. Everyone was happy to take advantage of air conditioning wherever it was available.

Chose a hell of a time to travel around central NSW looking at telescopes. 3 days in a row of 40+ temps. #dishtour 5:35 PM Nov 21st, 2009

As we were leaving Coonabarabran I spotted this motorcycle. Totally set up for touring I just can’t believe that such a vehicle could be controlled. Wouldn’t want to brake too quickly I’d imagine.

Brave Motorcyclist

Brave Motorcyclist

It would take a brave and experienced motorcyclist to drive this I think: http://twitpic.com/qa1j9 Seen in Coonabarabran thismorning. 9:25 AM Nov 21st, 2009

The Mopra Telescope

On the way out of Coonabarabran we stopped at the MOPRA radio telescope.

MOPRA Telescope

MOPRA Telescope

The Mopra Radio Telescope has a 22-metre dish and is located in the Warrumbungle National Park near Coonabarabran. It is part of the Australia Telescope National Facility, operated by CSIRO. The name hails from the location of the facility close to Mopra Rock a geological formation overlooking the telescope.

The MOPRA radio telescope near Coonabarabran: http://twitpic.com/qam80 The detectors are cooled to -250 degrees with liquid helium #dishtour 11:43 AM Nov 21st, 2009

Mopra is controlled remotely from the ATNF facility near Narrabri.

Australia Telescope National Facility (ATNF)

The ATNF operates the Australia Telescope which consists of the Compact Array at Narrabri and the Parkes and Mopra radio telescopes. These telescopes can be used together as a long baseline array for use in Very Long Baseline Interferometry. The facility is located about 25km west of Narrabri in rural NSW.

As we approached the facility we were confronted with signs telling us to turn off all radio transmitters as they may interfere with the equipment.

Turn off all radio transmitters

Turn off all radio transmitters

Not easy to tweet while visiting radio telescopes. They are necessarily built in remote locations far from mobile towers. #dishtour 9:07 AM Nov 21st, 2009

We took refuge from the heat inside the visitors centre and ate soggy sandwiches.

Lunch at the Australia Telescope National Facility (ATNF) visitors centre

Lunch at the Australia Telescope National Facility (ATNF) visitors centre

Australian Telescope Compact Array (ATCA)

After lunch we headed towards the Australian Telescope Compact Array control building. The ATCA is an array of six 22-m antennas used for radio astronomy.

Inside the Australian Compact Telescope Array control room

Inside the Australian Compact Telescope Array control room

Our visit to the server room was welcome as it was cooled to about 10 degrees. Here we saw the banks of SUN computers that processed the data received by the dishes.

Inside the server room at the Australian Compact Telescope Array (ACTA) located near Narrabri, NSW: http://twitpic.com/qbxc9 #dishtour 5:12 PM Nov 21st, 2009

The view of these huge dishes perched on their tracks was an imposing sight. We paused on our way out to take a few more snapshots of these magnificant structures.

The Australian Compact Telescope Array (ACTA)

The Australian Compact Telescope Array (ACTA)

Sydney University Stellar Interferometer (SUSI)

Next up we headed towards the nearby Sydney University Stellar Interferometer (SUSI).

SUSI is a long-baseline optical interferometer. Interferometry is a technique that allows astronomers to improve the angular resolution of their observations. They can use this technique to determine the size of nearby stars. More about the interferometry technique on the SUSI webpage.

Sydney University Stellar Interferometer (SUSI)

Sydney University Stellar Interferometer (SUSI)

Once inside the SUSI facility we were confronted with a huge array of optical equipment. Amazingly, the twin beams of light collected from the star being observed are recombined after matching the length of the light path to within one wavelength, causing the interference patterns required to complete the analysis. One wavelength of light equates to several hundred nanometres. For comparison, a sheet of paper is about 100,000 nanometers thick

Inside SUSI

Inside the SUSI Facility

The inside of the building was kept at a very constant temperature in order to achive the accuracy required. This was achieved by constructing a second shell inside the main building. The air between the two shells acted as an insulator to help minimise temperature fluctuations in the innermost compartment.

Thanks to the team at the Sydney University Stellar Interferometer for the fantastic tour and for their insight into the facility. #dishtour 5:38 PM Nov 21st, 2009

An Evening in Narrabri

After a very hot day at the ATNF we returned to Narrabri where several people from the tour chose to cool off in the hotel pool before dinner.

How retro, this motel in Narrabri has a VCR #dishtour 6:21 PM Nov 21st, 2009

The group assembled in the bar and chatted before dinner was served. After the sun set we assembled in the hotel car-park to look at the sky through a Meade LX200 telescope. Once again we observed the moons of jupiter and several other objects.

Looking at the moons of Jupiter after 5 beers in a motel carpark in Narrabri. Looking through a Meade LX200 scope. #dishtour 9:29 PM Nov 21st, 2009

Stargazing in Narrabri

Stargazing in Narrabri

Continue to Day 4 of the Beyond The Dish Tour