Wednesday, 19 August 2009

A last trip to the telescopes

Last week was spent on one last observing trip to the telescopes. First up was a few days at Narrabri observing with ATCA. I drove up with Vik in one of the work Priuses. I'm not the exactly the biggest fan of the hybrids but they're ok, naturally I'd prefer the usual V6 Commodore which has plenty of grunt. However the box of batteries has enough power to overtake the B-doubles and made it all the way on one tank.

Using ATCA we were observing at millimetre wavelengths over a long baseline. I'm more a of a low-frequency single-dish kinda guy so this was new territory for me. At these frequencies we actually had to worry about the seeing and pointing errors, it's practically optical! Also we were using the brand new CABB system which replaced the old correlator that I was used to. Surprisingly the set-up wasn't too difficult and (with a lot of help from the locals) the observations went smoothly despite the occasional wind-stow.

Sunset over ATCA ATCA

After I'd said goodbye to ATCA I drove off down to Parkes where Ramesh and Jonathon had already started our PPTA observations. I love that drive, there's little traffic, the Warrumbungles are beautiful and there's plenty of long straight bits to overtake on. I did have a near miss when a large section of angle-iron fell off the back of a truck but otherwise it was a relaxing drive.

I arrived at Parkes just in time for the wind to drop and observations restart. They went pretty smoothly and I took the opportunity between scans to turn on the floodlights and take some photos. I also visited the visitor centre several times to stock up on Parkes related merchandise :-). Marta and Maura were there and we had fun recounting Parkes stories in the evenings.

Floodlit dish Bacl of floodlit dish

We also had a PULSE@Parkes run but this was from VSSEC so Rob, George and Jono (as in Jonathan not Jonathon) had gone down to Melbourne to cover it. On this run we had the students tweeting what they were doing. We had several astronomers following and even had a bit of press interest. It seemed to go very well and the kids were very enthusiastic.

Signal near Orange Signal near Orange

It was an uneventful drive back but I stopped to take a photo of an old analogue railway signal sat all on its own by the side of the road. I always look out for it between Bathurst and Orange.

I was a bit sad leaving Parkes for the last time before I move to Germany. But I will be back before too long, counting the minutes until shift change! Still it won't quite be the same.

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