If you love jaw dropping, scientific type sights, the Parkes Observatory (near Parkes) and the Australian Telescope Compact Array near Narrabri are absolute, must-see, gems. Actually, when we went to see these amazing things, I was surprised that the general public was allowed in. As you approach these two locations, you are greeted with multiple, extremely stern signs to turn off all wifi and bluetooth as it interferes with their signals. Realistically, does this happen reliably all the time? I suspect not. Despite that, the public is allowed close to the dishes on most days of the year. (I guess these scientists take their best data at night when they can be absolutely sure of no interference!)
About 20km outside of the town of Parkes is the CSIRO – Parkes Observatory. From the carpark, you can already see the magnificent 64m dish. It was particularly breathtaking on the day we were there against the bright, blue sky. This observatory was actually involved with the moon landing. I recommend watching the film that was made about this event. It is called The Dish. It’s a sweet film and it is always thrilling to see a movie made about a scientific achievement. There is a great visitors centre at the Observatory and a cafe.
The absolute best part of the visit was that the dish was re-oriented when we were there. When we arrived and saw the dish pointing upwards, I wondered what the inside was like. It was such a treat to see the dish re-adjusted during our visit so that we could see the inside. Unlike the film, they do not play cricket inside the dish.
About 30 minutes outside of Narrabri is the Australian Telescope Compact Array (ATCA) at the Paul Wild Observatory. This comprises of six 22m antennas used for radio astronomy. Once again, to enter this facility, there are multiple signs to ensure all wifi and bluetooth is turned off as it disrupts their results. These 6 dishes are built on a railway track so their positioning can be adjusted. By adjusting their position, they can build a bigger picture, section by section.
I am grateful that these two facilities allow free entry for the public. I suspect that having the public visit probably interferes with their work. There should be more attractions like this. It is always inspiring to see attractions which showcase Australia’s scientific achievements and how we are part of a worldwide team to build knowledge.