The Australia Telescope Compact Array, Narrabri

Narrabri, North Western New South Wales, is renowned for the production of some of the world’s highest quality wheat, cotton, fat lambs and beef. The area is also known as “Big Sky” country, easy to understand as we enjoy the clear night skies. It is also home to the largest telescope in the southern hemisphere as well as several research facilities.

Yesterday was a much needed rest day and refreshed by our quiet time we headed out today to enjoy some of the many interesting sights in the area.

While the technology and scientific explanations went straight over my head, the MOTH (Man of The House) had a good idea of how it worked and as a consequence much more impressed than I was. What did impress me were the Whispering Dishes set 100 metres apart. One person facing one of the dishes can whisper so quietly it would be inaudible normally and the sound is transmitted to the other dish were the recipient of the sweet nothing can hear every word clear as a bell.

The big satellite in the background is 22 metres across and weighs 270 tonnes and there are six of these dishes that track along a 3km stretch and can be moved by remote computer controls. Over the year more than 400 astronomers access the telescope either on site or remotely via the internet. It is observing technology only and does not receive signals. Seven years ago the installation was fitted with special receivers that make it useful to NASA in tracking spacecraft (UFOs maybe?).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFive of the six antennae are located at this site and the sixth is sited 3km further west of the track. The configuration of these six antennae have the combined power to simulate a single dish 6 kms in diameter … even I was impressed. But wait there’s more. To allow the telescope to achieve an even high resolution, a dish situated at Coonabarabran can link itself, and the Narrabri array with the ‘grand old lady’ at Parkes to act as one telescope, measuring 320 kms in diameter. How amazing is that!

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