Gayle Beveridge is a past winner of the Boroondara Literary Awards and her work has appeared in Award Winning Australian Writing. Gayle is passionate about family, writing, photography, and with Victoria’s beautiful Bass Coast which she now calls home.
Published October 4th 2021
Famous, fantastic and facing the Universe
A visit to Parkes had long been on our agenda. We called in to look at the radio telescope that starred in the film, 'The Dish' and we soon discovered there is far more to a visit to Parkes than just looking at the dish itself. Aside from the overwhelming size of it, the first thing I noticed was that there was a constant hum coming from the telescope. This is a very sensitive radio telescope so visitors are asked to turn off off mobile phones and wi-fi devices or place them in flight/airport mode to reduce radio frequency interference.
1. Look at That Dish - How Big is That! Only by actually standing beneath it can the size of the dish be realised. At 64 metres in diameter and set atop a three-storey concrete tower, it is significantly larger than those we saw at Narrabri. The dish is so large it has to be pointed upwards once the wind speed exceeds 35 kilometres an hour to stop it behaving like a giant sail. The moving parts of the telescope which are not fixed to the tower but sit atop it, weigh 1,000 tonnes, more than two Boeing 747's. If you are lucky enough to visit while the dish is being moved you can watch from the viewing area. It is quite something to see it rotating. The Parkes dish began operating in 1961 and continuous upgrades of technology ensure it is still a valuable resource today.
The dish has several functions. It tracks pulsars, conducts large scale surveys of the sky, and tracks Spacecraft. It is most widely known for the role it played in the Apollo 11 moon landing mission which has been immortalised in the movie, The Dish starring Sam Neil. Click here to read how, through Parkes, Australia contributed to the moon landing mission.
2. The Astronomy and Space Science Exhibition is the place to learn all about the Parkes radio telescope, right back before it was even built. It's not just information boards laid out clearly and simply with an abundance of photos across time, here you'll find the equipment of the past. It is all very interesting and hi-tech and you could be excused for feeling you had stepped aboard the bridge of the Starship Enterprise. Everything is explained in layman's terms like the information board beside a cryogenic cooler on which it is compared to the operation of a refrigerator. You can't learn about Parkes without learning something about the universe too. It's a lot to take in and the folks at the CSIRO know this so they've provided a range of fact sheets you can take away with you.
3. The 3D Theatre. The 3D theatre shows a collection of short films which altogether takes about thirty minutes. The movies, which are changed regularly, are animated features looking at some of the complexities of the universe. The movies are produced by Swinburne University's Centre for Astrophysics and Supercomputing.
4. The Astrokids Scavenger Hunt. The scavenger hunt takes about thirty minutes and is suitable for kids from the ages of seven to fourteen. There are different sets of questions for the under and over tens. The kids receive an activity book and a souvenir pencil. The activities take the kids around the centre looking for clues to solve a puzzle. Once the secret word has been discovered the kids will receive the 'official' Astrokids stamp.
5. What's in the Yard? Don't miss having a wander around. A display with twin dishes (the whispering dishes) demonstrates how effective the dish is at enhancing signals. It's an interactive display, just use your voices. You'll need two to play. There is also an apple tree in the grounds that is reputed to be grown from cuttings of Sir Isaac Newton's famous apple tree.
6. Refreshments at the Dish Café. The onsite Dish Café is open for breakfast and lunch and light refreshments, like coffee and hot scones. I hear their homemade pies are a wee bit special too. They can be contacted on (02) 6861 1772.
Click here to visit the CSIRO Parkes Radio Telescope page and discover all sorts of interesting things about Parkes.
Parkes is open to visitors 7 days a week from 8.30am to 4.15pm (including public holidays) except on Christmas Day and Boxing Day. Entry to the visitor centre, telescope viewing area and astronomy and space science exhibition are free. Go to the visitor information website for pricing for the 3D Theatre and the Astrokids Scavenger Hunt.
The Parkes Radio Telescope visitor information centre is on location. They can be contacted on 1300 363 400 or click here to visit their website.
The Parkes Radio Telescope at the Parkes Observatory is 20 kilometres north of Parkes off the Newell Highway. Look for the sign at the turnoff. Parkes is in Central West New South Wales, about 380 kilometres from Sydney, and is an easy drive from Dubbo (120 kilometres) and Orange (100 kilometres).
If you want to make the town of Parkes a stopover the Parkes Visitor Information Centre is on the Newell Highway in Parkes. They can be contacted on 02 6862 6000 or 1800 624 365, by email on email@example.com or click here to visit their website. To find accommodation, of which there is plenty, click here for the Visit Parkes Accommodation Page.
Where:The Parkes Radio Telescope at the Parkes Observatory is 20 kilometres north of Parkes off the Newell Highway. Look for the sign at the turnoff. Parkes is in Central West New South Wales, about 380 kilometres from Sydney, and is an easy drive from Dub
Cost:Entry to the visitor centre, telescope viewing area and astronomy and space science exhibition are free. Go to the visitor information website for pricing for the 3D Theatre and the Astrokids Scavenger Hunt