"The Dish" Turns 40 Today

31 October 2001

CSIRO's Parkes Radio telescope was officially opened on 31 October 1961.

Tomorrow scientists will celebrate the anniversary with a scientific symposium at the Parkes Observatory in mid-west NSW. Parkes was the world's second 'big dish' radio telescope. Its design was copied later for the antennas of NASA's deep-space tracking stations.

"Building Parkes was a big project and a bold step," says the Dr John Reynolds, the Parkes Observatory's Officer-in-Charge. "It represented great deal of faith in Australia's scientific

Only the basic structure of the telescope has remained the same since 1961. Continual upgrades of the dish's surface, computers and electronics have kept the telescope state-of-the-art.

The telescope's scientific achievements include helping to identify the first quasar, discovering magnetic fields in space, and finding more pulsars than any other telescope. Parkes has also helped track spacecraft, from the Apollo missions in the '60s to Voyager and Giotto in the '80s and Galileo in the '90s.

The telescope was built by the CSIRO Division of Radiophysics, which had been set up in 1939 to work on radar. After the war the radar researchers turned their skills to new fields, including studying radio waves from space. These had been discovered 1932 but were not much investigated until after World War II.

The CSIRO researchers were among the first to show that some of the cosmic radio waves came from other galaxies. Australia became a world leader in the new field of radio astronomy.

In the 1950s Radiophysics Chief, Dr Edward ('Taffy') Bowen argued that Australia should build a large steerable telescope. Many designs were considered. "Some were pretty way out," says Dr Reynolds.

The telescope was finally built with funding from the Australian Government, the US Carnegie Corporation, the Rockefeller Foundation and public contributions.

Mr John Bolton, a brilliantly talented radio astronomer and engineer, was appointed as the Parkes Observatory's first Director.

To celebrate the telescope's 40th anniversary the Observatory will be open to the public on the weekend of 3-4 November 2001. There will be free tours of the telescope and other special activities for visitors.

CSIRO Press Release


Open days information

Tel 02-6861-1777 (Parkes Observatory Visitors Centre)


More information

Helen Sim, Australia Telescope National Facility,
02-9372-4251 or 0419-635-905

Dr John Reynolds, Officer in Charge (OIC), Parkes Observatory

Mr John Brooks, Assistant Director, Australia Telescope National Facility
02-9372-4227 and 0419-412-947

Mr John Sarkissian, Operations Scientist, Parkes Observatory

Mr Rick Twardy, Manager, Parkes Visitors Discovery Centre

Mr Peter Robertson, author of a history of the Parkes telescope, "Under Southern Skies"