Parkes Observatory

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The Parkes Observatory in New South Wales, Australia
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The Parkes Observatory in New South Wales, Australia
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The big dish

The Parkes Observatory is a radio telescope observatory, 20 kilometres north of the town of Parkes, New South Wales, Australia. It is best known as the dish which sent images of the first moon landing to the rest of the world.

The primary observing instrument is the 64-metre Parkes Radio Telescope, the largest movable dish in the Southern Hemisphere. It was completed in 1961 and has operated almost continuously to the present day. The dish surface was physically upgraded by adding smooth metal plates to the central part of the dish to provide focusing capability for centimetre and millimetre length microwaves. The outer part of the dish remains a fine metal mesh, creating its distinctive "two-tone" appearance.

The telescope has an altazimuth mount. It is guided by a small mock-telescope placed within the structure at the same rotational axes as the dish, but with an equatorial mount. The two are dynamically locked when tracking an astronomical object by a laser guiding system.

The receiving cabin is located at the focus of the parabolic dish, supported by three struts 27 metres above the dish. The cabin contains multiple radio and microwave detectors, which can be switched into the focus beam for different science observations.

The observatory is a part of the Australia Telescope National Facility network of radio telescopes. The 64m dish is frequently operated together with the Australia Telescope Compact Array at Narrabri and a single dish at Mopra, to form a very long baseline interferometry array.

During the Apollo missions to the moon, the Parkes Observatory was used to relay communication and telemetry signals to NASA, providing coverage for when the moon was on the Australian side of the Earth ([1] (http://www.parkes.atnf.csiro.au/apollo11/)).

The observatory has remained involved in tracking numerous space missions up to the present day, including those of the Galileo and Cassini-Huygens probes. It is also a major world centre for research into pulsars, with more than half of those currently known today discovered at the Parkes Observatory.

The observatory and telescope were featured in the 2001 film The Dish, a fictionalised account of the observatory's involvement with the Apollo 11 moon landing.

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