Just west of the town of Narrabri in country New South Wales is a fantastic spot for science nerds (like me) the nation over. The Australia Telescope Compact Array (ATCA) at the Paul Wild Observatory is an array of 6 antennas (think “The Dish”) used for radio astronomy.
5 of the 22-metre antennas sit on a railway track and can be moved into different positions, whereas the 6th antenna is in a fixed location a few kilometres further west. The Australia Telescope is operated by the CSIRO as part of the Australia Telescope National Facility and can be linked up to other nearby radio telescopes at Parkes (The Dish) and Mopra to act as if it was one really giant dish.
At the site you’ll find an unmanned visitors centre which is always open and is free to enter. There are also plenty of exhibits around the grounds where you can learn more about astronomy (try using the whispering dishes)! A public barbecue is also available, so feel free to bring some sausages! You’ll surely see some of the locals while you’re there – I’m talking about kangaroos, emus, koalas and even echidnas! If you’re driving around the site at dusk or during the night, be sure to drive very slowly and watch out for all the kangaroos near the road.
If you’re interested, you can even see what astronomers are looking at right now. This page will show you how the antennas are currently arranged, as well as a description of what the astronomers are working on. If you have Google Earth installed on your computer, you can even click here to get a view of what they can see!
The Australia Telescope Compact Array is a marvel of human engineering, and it’s one of many facilities which puts Australia on the world map when it comes to astronomy and learning more about our universe. If you’re driving through country New South Wales, I’d definitely recommend a visit to ACTA or the Dish at Parkes.