Tuesday, 21 July 2009

The Parkes open day

I spent my second weekend in a row at Parkes, this time it was the Parkes open day. Given all the visitors, helicopters and media broadcasting the RFI environment was bound to be terrible but George managed to persuade Vik and me that it was worth trying to get some observations for one of our projects.

As we gathered for the briefing on the Saturday morning there were already people queuing to get in. Some had come from Victoria and Queensland. It wasn't long before the line for the telescope tours was stretching around the telescope and was 3 hours long. Despite that everyone seemed to be very cheerful and enjoyed the tours. We were in the control room, one of the last stops on the tour and we became expert in explaining what we were observing in 60 seconds or less! George, Vik and I took turns talking to the relentless tours, doing the observations and checking e-mail.

The queue for the telescope tour A tour walks along the AZ track

There were stands from local groups, science outreach people from further afield, shows in the 3D theatre, walks around the grounds, science talks in the marquee and even a bouncy castle!

I gave a live interview on ABC radio in the morning. I was surprised that it lasted 5 mins or more rather than the usual sound-bite. Later a punter from Dubbo told me that he'd heard this fella on the radio talking about pulsars - fame at last! There was a lot of media interest with all the major TV stations sending at least one crew. The ABC arrived in their helicopter.

By the end of the first day we were all knackered. There was a BBQ and bonfires at the woolshed for the volunteers. We stayed late drinking beer (purely medicinal, to sooth our sore throats), telling tall stories and jokes.

The next day I had a talk to give at the main marquee and it was nearly packed. There were lots of good questions and interest and another visitor had heard my radio interview. It was great to meet so many people who are genuinely interesting in what we do.

Aerial view of the Parkes telescope Aerial view of the Parkes telescope

Later on I took a helicopter ride around the telescope. It was a tiny thing with bubble like windows, you could feel every tweak of the controls and gust of wind. It was great to see the telescope from a different angle. It looked much more steeply curved than it does from the ground. I took a few photos and even some video. It was a great trip and has got me thinking about flying lessons again.

We drove through the night on Sunday to get back to Sydney and I decided that Monday morning just wasn't going to happen. It was a long, exhausting but fun weekend. More than 6,500 people visited and more than 3,000 of those took the tour through the telescope. And we may even get some data out of it!

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