Last Updated on May 6, 2021 by Red Nomad OZ
Australia Telescope Compact Array
At the Australia Telescope Compact Array, the future of Southern Hemispheric radio astronomy was in my hands, at least for the next 30 minutes or so.
Staggering advances in technology channel radio signals from deep, DEEP space through the 6-Dish Australia Telescope Compact Array. The dishes work together to simulate a much larger antenna. However, the advances were apparently not quite advanced enough to drown out the rather weak signal emitted by my mobile phone.
The thought of death by Optus* was strangely appealing. Because that’s apparently what would happen to whatever radio signal data was filtering its lonely way across the aeons of light years separating earth from the nebulae and galaxies behind the sheltering sky above if I left my phone on. I made an uncharacteristic decision to play nice.
So I switched the mobile off. Danged thing wasn’t receiving a signal anyway.
More importantly, I didn’t know if anyone was watching. Or recording my actions and movements. ~400 astronomers use the Compact Array and other Australian radio telescopes each year. And any of them could have been lurking over in the unmistakeably government-issue buildings behind me.
The sinking sun silhouetted five of the massive parabolic dishes, each 22 metres (~72 feet) in diameter and weighing 270 tonnes, against the clear evening sky. I was lucky. They could have easily been in a different configuration along the 3 km (1.86 miles) of track that separates them from the 6th dish, fixed in position at its western end.
I lined them up for a full-frontal Compact Array shot. Sweet.
Yes, size DOES matter!
The Loo at the end of the Universe
I got a massive thrill from nailing a rare** 5-dishes-in-a-Compact-Array-at-the-end-of-the-universe shot. But it ALMOST distracted me from the unobtrusive white structure between the Car Park and the Visitor Centre.
When this blog was taking its first uncertain steps towards the fame and fortune that still eludes it, I naively dubbed Scenic Public Toilet #4 ‘The Little Public Toilet at the End of the Universe’.
But … I was wrong.
How can a remote Outback spot compete with an obscure New South Wales location in the Namoi Valley’s agricultural belt near Narrabri? Even if it does resemble a moonscape!
I put aside all thoughts of black holes, and other unsavoury astronomic phenomena. I couldn’t help appreciating the weird juxtaposition of the symbols of humanity’s lowly response to nature’s call; and the ultimate pinnacle of humanity’s search for meaning in the universe.
The afternoon light was fading and the stars beginning to appear, so we left the Compact Array Visitor Centre for nearby Narrabri.
And I turned my mobile back on.
* An Australian mobile phone network carrier
** Well, do YOU have one??
- More about the Compact Array
- Narrabri, New South Wales
- Australian Scenic Public Toilet #4
- Other Australian Scenic Public Toilets