CSIRO's radio astronomy observatories are collectively known as the Australia Telescope National Facility, or ATNF. The ATNF is operated and managed by CSIRO Astronomy and Space Science, a division of CSIRO — Australia's national science agency. The facility supports Australia’s research in radio astronomy and can be used by researchers from institutions all over the world.
Parkes Observatory is home to the CSIRO Parkes 64-metre radio telescope. This telescope has been successfully operated since 1961. Upgrades to accommodate a 13-beam focal plane array have maintained its international standing as a state-of-the-art instrument.
CSIRO's Australia Telescope Compact Array is located at the Paul Wild Observatory near the town of Narrabri. Each of these antennas has a reflecting surface with a diameter of 22 metres. A further 22-metre antenna, known as the CSIRO Mopra telescope, is located near Coonabarabran.
A fourth CSIRO telescope, the Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder (ASKAP), is currently being built at the Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory in Western Australia. ASKAP will be made up of 36 antennas, each 12 metres in diameter, working together as a single instrument. Once complete, ASKAP will provide Australian and international astronomers with another world-leading instrument. It will also be operated by CSIRO as part of the ATNF.
CSIRO also manages the astronomy use of the Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex 70-m and 34-m antennas at Tidbinbilla. NASA/JPL makes approximately 5% of 70-m antenna time available to astronomical research programs.
In addition to operating independently, the ATNF radio telescopes can be used together (and sometimes in conjunction with other antennas in Australia and New Zealand) as a long baseline array for a technique known as Very Long Baseline Interferometry (VLBI).
Technical research and development supporting upgrades of the ATNF, as well as for the new ASKAP instrument, are conducted at CSIRO Astronomy and Space Science headquarters at Marsfield.
The mission of the ATNF is:
- To operate and develop the Australia Telescope as a national research facility for use by Australian and international researchers
- To exploit the telescope’s unique southern location and technological advantages to maintain its position as a world-class radio astronomy observatory, and
- To further the advancement of knowledge.
Our telescope users
Each year the ATNF is used by about 400 astronomers from around 20 countries. Observers use the ATNF without charge in keeping with the general practice of the worldwide astronomy community, in which telescope users from different countries gain reciprocal access to facilties on the basis of merit.
Observing time is awarded to researchers by a Time Assignment Committee (TAC). The TAC is appointed by the Australia Telescope Steering Committee. Telescope users are represented by the Australia Telescope Users Committee.
The ATNF is one of the most powerful radio astronomy facilities in the world:
- It is the only major radio astronomy facility of its kind in the southern hemisphere, offering a unique view of the sky across a broad radio spectrum
- It is the largest single astronomical institution in Australia and 90% of Australian radio astronomy is carried out with the ATNF, and
- Research conducted with the ATNF has high-level impact – in an independent study in 2008 the Australia Telescope Compact Array ranked second in the world among radio telescopes, and the Parkes radio telescope third, in terms of the total number of citations to research papers (Trimble and Ceja (2008) Astron. Nachr., 329, 623–647).