For something completely different, what about a visit to CSIRO’s Australia Telescope? It’s also one of the most fascinating places in the country.
For instance did you know that Australia is a world leader in radio astronomy and the Australia Telescope is just part of the reason? It was designed and built here in Australia and is the largest telescope of its kind in the southern hemisphere.
Capable of receiving signals one thousand times higher in frequency than FM radio stations it is the largest and most powerful radio telescope in the southern hemisphere. And it’s just 20km west of Narrabri! The Australia Telescope Compact Array consists of six huge antennas, weighing a massive 270 tonnes each, five of which can be moved along a 3km railway track. The sixth antenna is situated a further 3km west of the main track. Using this configuration the combined power of the antennas can simulate a single dish 6 km in diameter.
With radio telescopes the bigger the antenna or array the finer the detail in the pictures of the observed radio sources. To give you an idea of just how incredible this installation is, to produce images from a single antenna, as clear as those produced by the Compact Array, the antenna would have to be more than six kilometres across! The array signals are processed in a specialised processor designed by CSIRO capable of two million multiplications per second.
Open seven days a week, admission to the observatory is absolutely free. From interactive “hands on” displays to “Whispering Dishes”, where the merest whisper can be transmitted a hundred metres by focussing with two small telescope dishes, a stopover at the Telescopes is fascinating for all ages.
A theatrette has frequent screenings outlining the operation of the Telescope and showing how astronomers use this impressive facility to reveal the secrets hidden at the far reaches of the Universe.
There are dozens of amazing photo opportunities. You can study working models of the Telescope and take information leaflets away with you, for that school project with a difference.
Coach and school tours are very welcome, but advance bookings are essential.
School groups can be provided with information packs and work sheets suitably presented for students of all ages.
In fact whether you’re an inquisitive scholar, or an Australia taxpayer wondering what you get out of all of this, you’ll thoroughly enjoy a visit to the Australia Telescope Compact Array.
Note: Radio telescopes collect radio signals and for this reason visitors to the site are asked to ensure mobile phones are switched off and radio transmitters not to be used because these everyday electronic devices can interfere with the Telescope and ruin an observation that has been months in the planning.