CSIRO Parkes Observatory

The CSIRO Parkes Observatory is located outside the central-west New South Wales town of Parkes (about 380 km west of Sydney) and hosts a 64-meter Parkes radio telescope, one of the telescopes comprising CSIRO’s Australia Telescope National Facility.

The Observatory is operated by the CSIRO (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation) Astronomy and Space Science (CASS) a business unit of CSIRO.  CASS operates the Mopra radio telescope near Coonabarabran, New South Wales and is developing the Australian SKA Pathfinder (ASKAP) telescope in Western Australia.

The Parkes Radio Telescope has been in operation since 1961 and is updated regularly in order to discover astronomic activities.   The telescope is now ten thousand times more sensitive that when commissioned in 1961.  The Observatory is commonly known as the “Dish” and it operates 24 hours a day and seven days per week.  Astronomers from around the world use the dish to undertake astronomical science.  Around 300 researchers use the telescope each year, and more than 40 percent of these users are from overseas.

The observatory and telescope were featured in the film “The Dish” a fictionalized account of the observatory’s involvement with the Apollo 11 moon landing.

When Buzz Aldrin switched on the TV camera on the Lunar Module, three tracking antennas received the signals simultaneously.  They were the 64 meter Goldstone antenna in California, the 26-meter antenna at Honeysuckle Creek near Canberra (Australian Capital Territory) and the 64-meter dish at Parkes.

Firstly, NASA alternated between the signals being received from its two stations at Goldstone and Honeysuckle Creek, searching for the best quality picture.  A little under nine minutes into the broadcast, the TV was switched to the Parkes signal.  The quality of the TV pictures from the Parkes Observatory was so superior that NASA stayed with Parkes for the remainder of the 2.5-hour broadcast.  The observatory has remained involved in tracing numerous space missions including Mariner 2, Mariner 4, Voyager, Giotto, Galileo, and Cassini-Huygens.

On Monday, 31 October 2011 Google replaced its logo with a Google Doodle in honor of the Parkes Observatory’s 50th Anniversary.  It was only visible in Australia.

In 2012 the Observatory received special signals from the Mars rover “Opportunity” to simulate the “Curiosity rover” UHF radio.  This helped prepare for the then-upcoming “Curiosity (MSL) landing in early August – it successfully touched down on 6th August 2012.