By Eamonn Bermingham
From seeing the first ever up-close images of Pluto, to finding water on Mars, to Stephen Hawking teaming up with a Russian billionaire in the search for aliens, 2015 has been a huge year for space exploration. So as we celebrate World Space Week, it seems quite fitting that our minds cast back to another big year for space. In fact, the biggest of them all: 1969, the year Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first humans to set foot on the moon.
But before you settle into your lounge, office chair or ergonomic workspace for our tale of space history, we have got some big news. To celebrate Buzz Aldrin’s upcoming visit to Australia next month, we’ve managed to get our hands on some front row tickets to see the famous astronaut in person. He will be captivating audiences in Sydney and Melbourne with a journey through space and time, from the historic walk on the moon to his vision for a future manned mission to Mars.
We’ve got more details on how you can win at the bottom, but right now we’d like to take a trip down our own memory lane, as we recall our role in one of humanity’s most significant achievements.
At 12.56 pm on 21 July 1969 Australian Eastern Standard Time (AEST), mankind took its ‘one giant leap’ and 600 million people watched as Neil Armstrong walked on the Moon.
Our Parkes radio telescope, along with NASA’s antenna at Honeysuckle Creek near Canberra, played a key role in televising the first moon walk.
The ‘Dish’ famously supported receiving the television signals on that momentous day. Although many people think the Parkes telescope was the only station receiving the signal, it was the 26-metre antenna at NASA’s Honeysuckle Creek space tracking station near Canberra that was the prime station assigned with receiving the initial TV pictures from the Moon and Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the lunar surface. (The Tidbinbillla deep space tracking station, today known as the Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex, provided support to the command module in lunar orbit.)
Eight and a half minutes after those first historic images were broadcast around the world, the television signal being received by the larger 64-metre Parkes radio telescope was then selected by NASA to provide the images for the following two hours and 12 minutes of live broadcast as the Apollo 11 astronauts explored the Moon surface.
While the Parkes telescope successfully received the signals, the occasion didn’t go without a hitch. The lunar module had landed at 6.17am AEST. Astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were supposed to rest before the Moonwalk, but Neil Armstrong was keen to get going. The astronauts were slow getting into their suits and when they got outside the Moon was rising over Parkes.
The telescope was fully tipped over, waiting for the Moon to rise, when a series of strong wind gusts – 110 km per hour – hit. They made the control room shudder, and slammed the telescope back against its zenith axis gears. Fortunately the wind slowed, and Buzz Aldrin activated the TV camera just as the Moon came into the telescope’s field-of-view. At this time, Honeysuckle Creek was taking the main signal. Eight minutes later the Moon was in the Parkes main detector’s field-of-view and NASA switched to Parkes. The weather was still bad, and the telescope operated well beyond its safety limits.
The signals received by Parkes were sent to Sydney. From there the TV signal was split. One signal went to the Australian Broadcasting Commission, the other to Houston for the international telecast. The international signal had to travel halfway around the world from Sydney to Houston, adding a delay. So Australian audiences saw Neil Armstrong’s historic first step 0.3 seconds before the rest of the world.
To celebrate Buzz’s visit, we’re giving away 3 tickets for both the Sydney and Melbourne events. Entering is simple enough: we want you to take a moon selfie using the hashtag #MoonBuzz. But instead of taking a selfie with the moon, we want you to take a selfie as the moon. All you need to do is get your hands on a camera and a toilet roll (bear with us here, we’re not raving lunar-tics) and follow these steps:
- Hold the toilet roll in front of your face so that you’re looking down the cylinder.
- Position your camera / phone at the other end, so that your face is framed by the roll.
- Take the photo!
- Submit your entry via any of our social channels (Instagram, Twitter or Facebook) with the hashtag #MoonBuzz
To give you an idea of what we’re after, here’s one we prepared earlier:
And the more creative you can get, the better*. Hurry, entries close next Sunday 11 October. Terms and conditions below.
- Did I Win?:Winners will be chosen by CSIRO based on images uploaded to our social channels (Instagram, Twitter and Facebook) which include the hashtag: #MoonBuzz. Users should also indicate their city of choice (Sydney or Melbourne) in their post. The image adjudged to be the most interesting, unique or humorous (ie the best) will be declared the winner.
- When and Where: Sydney: 27 November; Melbourne: 29 November. Visit www.liveonstageaustralia.com.au for more info.
- Be a Follower:You must be following one of our accounts to be considered (whether it be submitted via Instagram, Facebook or Twitter)
- Not on Instagram?:Shame on you! But we don’t mind, share your pics with us on Facebook and Twitter and we will include those in the competition, if you include #CSIROgram
- No, you’re not funny: Trust us, submitting a picture of you ‘mooning’ us will not get any laughs. We’ll just block and report you.
*As much as we’d love to claim credit for coming up with this selfie idea, credit must go to fans of the Mighty Boosh.
It’s already an exciting time for Australia in the field of astronomy and space science. But we’ve just received an astronomical boost with the announcement of CSIRO’s role with the Breakthrough Prize Foundation’s (BPF) US$100 million dollar search for extraterrestrial intelligence, called Breakthrough Listen.
CSIRO has signed a multi-million dollar agreement to use its 64 metre Parkes radio telescope in the quest to search for intelligent life elsewhere in the universe. Breakthrough Listen will be allocated a quarter of the science time available on the Parkes telescope from October 2016 for a period five years, on a full cost recovery basis.
The Parkes observations will be part of a larger set of initiatives to search for life in the universe. The ET hunters will also use time on the Green Bank telescope in West Virginia, operated by the US National Radio Astronomy Observatory, and a telescope at the University of California’s Lick Observatory.
CSIRO has the only capability for radio astronomy in the southern hemisphere that can deliver the scientific goals for the new initiative. The Parkes Radio Telescope is essential for the scientific integrity of the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI). It is ideally situated for a search such as this. The most interesting and richest parts of our own galaxy, the Milky Way, pass directly overhead. If we are going to detect intelligent life elsewhere, it is most likely going to be found in that part of the galaxy towards the centre of the Milky Way.
The Parkes Radio Telescope is also one of the world’s premier big dishes and has outstanding ability to detect weak signals that a search like this requires. It has always been at the forefront of discovery, from receiving video footage of the first Moon walk on 20 July 1969 (which was dramatised in the movie The Dish), to tracking NASA’s Curiosity rover during its descent onto Mars in 2012, to now once again searching for intelligent life.
It has also played a leading role in the detection and study of pulsars, small dense stars that can spin hundreds of times a second, the recent discovery of enigmatic (but boringly named) fast radio bursts, or FRBs, and in the search for gravitational waves.
Parkes also played a leading role in previous SETI searches. In 1995 the California-based SETI Institute used the telescope for six months for its Project Phoenix search. The Parkes telescope provided the critical capability to search the southern sky that could not be accessed using telescopes in the northern hemisphere.
The latest initiative is being led by a number of the world’s most eminent astrophysicists and astronomers. Professor Matthew Bailes, ARC Laureate Fellow at the Centre for Astrophysics and Supercomputing at Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne, will be the Australian lead of the SETI observing team using the Parkes telescope.
The program will nicely complement the existing scientific uses of the Parkes telescope. Although it will take up a quarter of Parkes time, it will benefit the research undertaken during the other three-quarters of the time the telescope is in operation. It will enable even greater scientific capability to be provided to a wide range of astronomy research through both the financial support and through the provision of new data processing and analysis systems and techniques. Incredible advances in computing technology make it possible for this new search to scan much greater swaths of the radio spectrum than has ever before been explored.
Rather than trying to guess where on the radio dial astronomers might receive a signal, they can now search an entire region of the radio spectrum in a single observation. The dramatic increase in data processing capability has also meant that astronomers can analyse telescope data in new ways, searching for many different types of artificial signals. CSIRO is thrilled to be part of this global initiative which takes advantage of the significant advances that have been made in computation and signal processing since the search for extraterrestrial life began. The probability of detecting intelligent life is small but it is much greater today than ever before.
To be the first to discover intelligent life would be a phenomenal achievement not only for the scientific community but for all humankind.
By Indra Tomic
What do the smell of lasagna, hunger pangs and a cosmic radio signal have in common? The surprising answer was discovered by our scientists at The Dish telescope this week when they went on a search to track the source of a mysterious radio signal known as a ‘peryton’.
Despite baffling scientists for years, the team had always suspected the origin of the signal was local to the telescope. And as more and more perytons were discovered, and only during office hours weekdays, suspicion quickly fell on human activity, and then the lunch room…
So, how did we found our own ‘ghost in the machine’?
In December 2014 the team installed a Radio Frequency Interference (RFI) monitoring antenna at The Dish. It was hoped this piece of equipment would help us detect any unwanted signals, like these perytons, so they could be eliminated.
Just one month later astronomers searching for fast radio bursts with the 64m dish detected three perytons on three separate days. By comparing them against the data from the RFI monitoring antenna, we realised that they appeared at the same time as the operation of a microwave.
This gave us the first clue as to their possible origin.
It was only after further testing that we eventually confirmed their true origin – the perytons appeared when the microwave doors were opened mid-operation. Bingo!
The RFI monitoring antenna helps us pick up all sorts of radio emissions – from mobiles and tablets all the way through to electrical devices like motors and generators. By installing equipment like this we are trying to achieve ‘radio quiet’ at our observatory sites.
Radio quiet zones are hugely important to astronomers. Any radio frequency ‘noise’ could interfere with the already weak astronomical radio signals being received, thereby reducing the ability to unlock more mysteries.
Within only a few months of installing the RFI monitoring antenna at The Dish, this piece of equipment immediately showed its worth by helping us solve this strange little mystery.
So for the world of space science you could say one cosmic mystery down, a million more to go.
By Glen Nagle
The town of Parkes, NSW – home of our famous Parkes Radio Telescope – has slipped on its Blue Suede Shoes.
In the second week of January each year, Parkes marks the birthday of Elvis Presley with a massive festival celebrating everything Elvis. It started over 20 years ago as a one-day get together of just a few hundred fans. In 2015, the festival has grown to cover a week of events, shows, parades and exhibits and over 15,000 visitors more than doubling the town’s population.
Along with one of the largest collections of Elvis memorabilia on permanent display at the Henry Parkes Visitor Centre (donated by Wiggles performer, Greg Page), the Parkes Elvis Festival is one of the town’s major icons.
The other great icon of course is the Dish – our very own Parkes radio telescope – so combining these two great icons into one stellar event was always going to be, quite literally, a match made in Heaven.
On Wednesday, 7th January an inaugural concert was held at the Dish to help mark the opening night of the Festival – and to celebrate what would have been the King’s 80th birthday the following day.
Starring popular Elvis tribute artist, Shakin’ Rick Mackaway, and backed by the fabulous rock band, The Wilsonics, the dinner and show night attracted hundreds of people from across the region and as far and wide as Canberra, Wollongong, Sydney, Adelaide and Melbourne.
Storm clouds threatened earlier in the day, but nothing was going to rain on this parade of love for the King and the Dish. The clouds almost magically bypassed the telescope and the brightest stars in heaven came out for an incredible night of songs, dancing and laughter against the impressive backdrop of Australia’s iconic radio telescope.
Continuing to observe the heavens throughout the show, the Dish even performed during the intermission with several large moves enthralling the audience and provoking questions about both the science behind, and the history of, the Dish.
As the evening came to a close with a final encore performance and the audience departed, the number one question was, “Are you going to do it again next year?!”
Hmmm? Elvis and the Dish 2! Two icons, exciting audiences everywhere with music and astronomy.
The possibilities are endless. Watch this space.