When you’re building the world’s largest radio telescope, then you need to go and see how other observatories have done the same and learn what lessons you can – which are the good operational practices and what are the mistakes you should try to avoid.
At the time of our visit, the 25-metre dishes were being moved out to their very widest configuration where the furthest distance between two individual dishes reaches over 22.6 miles. They are moved, individually, by a transporter along the train tracks you can see in many of the images here.
We had a flying visit to the SKA offices in Cape Town, South Africa for a meeting. Despite the distance, this a necessary part of the job, especially when you’re working on a globally distributed project such as the SKA. For me, this was also my first opportunity to visit the site where the South African telescope of the SKA is to be built, out in the Karoo desert. Having seen the site in Australia recently, I was excited to see the same in South Africa.
The day starts with an early morning flight from Cape Town in an executive jet, and seeing the sunrise from the air.
There is a direct flight to the observatory site, but we wanted to see the support facility in Klarefontaine, where the Engineering Operations Centre would be located. So this meant stopping in the small, nearby town of Carnarvon. Despite its remoteness and the dusty and makeshift runway, this part of the world is aware of the SKA and is preparing itself.
The MWA is a low frequency telescope array, operating between 80 and 300 MHz, and is not made of traditional telescope dishes but of radio antennae. These antennae can come in a variety of designs. At the MWA they have an uncanny resemblance to crabs or spiders crawling across the landscape.
Maybe an hour out of Geraldton, we stopped at a small town, Mullewa, for a quick pit stop.
Jonesys Cafe, where you can find quite possibly what are the best muffins in the world, and the hottest damned coffee I’ve ever tried to drink. Norm, our bus driver for the two day trip, was staying cool regardless.
Back on the road and we are truly in the desert now. The weather was beautiful, but the northerners amongst us were constantly reminded that this is the Australian winter, and that it is not always like this.
That’s a big ant-hill, Adam! Try jumping up-and-down – let’s see what happens.