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A co-ordinating organization with the aim of supporting astronomy and space science outreach in WA is Astronomy WA.[1]

Square Kilometre Array

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SKA overview

Due to its relative isolation from radio-frequency interference, the Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory (MRO) in the Mid West region of Western Australia was selected to host one of the two primary locations of the international Square Kilometre Array (SKA) radio telescope project. It is called the Square Kilometre Array since the combined area of the dishes in the mid range interferometer instrument (SKA-mid) will be of the order of one square kilometre, using thousands of individual radio telescopes each 13.5 metres in diameter. When fully operational the SKA will consist of three main instruments (SKA-low, SKA-mid and SKA-survey) which will be 50 times more sensitive than the currently most powerful interferometer (the Very Large Array in the USA), be capable of surveying the sky more than ten thousand to a million times faster than what is possible today[2], and will generate an amazing ten to a hundred times more data than the current total global Internet traffic![3] As well as the obvious benefit to radio astronomy science, another reason to build the SKA is to develop the science needed to deal with the enormous volumes of data which will be generated by the SKA instruments. This is of critical importance to the future technological development of all humanity.

The planned SKA radio telescope instruments are very ambitious projects, so working test instruments have been built to gain experience of the new technology and guide the design of the eventual SKA instruments. These test instruments are called 'precursor' instruments. They are world leading instruments in their own right and enable valuable scientific research to be done. For SKA Phase 1, Australia will host at the MRO:[4]

  • SKA1-low, a low-frequency aperture array comprising some 250,000 dipole antennae. The precursor to this instrument is the Murchison Widefield Array (MWA), a low-frequency radio telescope operating between 70 and 300 MHz with 4,096 dipoles (256 tiles of 16 dipoles each).
  • SKA1-survey, a mid-frequency array of 96x12m diameter dish antennae equipped with phased-array antenna feeds. The precursor to this instrument is ASKAP, which consists of 36 identical radio telescope dishes, each 12 metres in diameter and trialling the phased-array antenna feeds which provide a wide field of view and fast response. The frequency range of ASKAP is 700-1800 MHz.[5]

The other primary radio telescope location is in South Africa near the town of Carnarvon, Northern Cape which will host the SKA1-mid instrument. The precursor instrument to this is MeerKAT, operating over the frequency range 1 GHz - 10 GHz and consisting of an array of 64 radio telescope dishes each 13.5 metres in diameter.

The Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory is located near Boolardy Station, approximately 315 km northeast of Geraldton, with logistics and science support provided by CSIRO from their facilities in Geraldton. High-capacity optical fibre cables provide links to the MRO support facility in Geraldton and to the Pawsey Supercomputing Centre in Perth.[6] Besides the SKA instruments and their precursors, other radio telescope instrumenst are also located at the MRO.

WA Space Centre

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Located at Yatharagga, 40 km from Mingenew, (100 km SE of Geraldton) the WA Space Centre (also known as the Yatharagga Satelite Station) is an $8,000,000 114ha satellite Earth station owned and operated by Space Australia, a subsidiary company of the Swedish Space Corporation (SSC). The facilities include equipment operated by NASA, The European Space Agency, CSIRO, MOBLAS and VLBI, amongst others.

Dongara Satellite Station, also owned by SSC, is adjacent to Yatharagga Satellite Station.

Gravity Discovery Centre (co-located with AIGO)

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Leaning tower of Gingin at the GDC

The Gravity Discovery Centre and Observatory (GDC) is a "hands-on" Science education, astronomy, Aboriginal culture and tourist centre, situated on the site of the Gravity precinct, near Gingin, north of Perth.

The Leaning Tower of Gingin is a purpose built 45m tall steel inclined tower, designed so that visitors can recreate the gravity experiments of Galileo Galilei done with cannon balls at the Leaning Tower of Pisa. There are 222 steps to the top from where balloons filled with water can be dropped through chutes. The tower leans at an angle of 15 degrees and is held in place by 180 tons of concrete.[7]

There are various telescopes at the GDC, with an observatory open to the public.

See also: Gravity Discovery Centre web site.

AIGO (co-located with the GDC)

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The Australian International Gravitational Observatory (AIGO) is a research facility located near Gingin, north of Perth. It is part of a worldwide effort to directly detect gravitational waves. (Note these are not to be confused with gravity waves, a phenomenon studied in fluid mechanics). It is operated by the Australian International Gravitational Research Centre (AIGRC) through the University of Western Australia under the auspices of the Australian Consortium for Interferometric Gravitational Astronomy (ACIGA).

AIGO (Stage I) is an interferometric gravitational wave detector, consisting of an L-shaped ultra high vacuum system, measuring 80 m on each side. This is a test facility only, as LIGO, the instruments which first detected gravitational waves, are also L-shaped but measure 4 km on each side.

The current aim of the facility is to develop advanced techniques for improving the sensitivity of interferometric gravitational wave detectors such as LIGO and VIRGO. A study of operational interferometric gravitational wave detectors shows that AIGO is situated in almost the ideal location to complement existing detectors in the Northern hemisphere.[8] There was a missed opportunity to build a third LIGO in WA, but this went to India instead (see LIGO-India).

Perth Observatory

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Perth Observatory-dome

Perth Observatory was originally founded in 1896 in West Perth on Karra Katta (Mount Eliza) overlooking the city of Perth. Due to the city's expansion and the increase in light pollution the observatory moved to Bickley in 1965. The new Perth Observatory is sometimes referred to as Bickley Observatory. It is open to the public and for public viewing through the telescopes. The main building of the old Perth Observatory has been preserved as a historic building and is now home to the National Trust of WA.[9]

See also: Perth Observatory web site.

Carnarvon Space and Technology Museum

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Carnarvon OTC Satellite Earth Station

The museum is on the site of the OTC Satellite Earth Station Carnarvon, an Earth station established near Carnarvon to meet the need for more reliable and higher quality communications for NASA's Project Gemini and Project Apollo, which succeeded in 1969 in landing astronauts on Meeka (the Moon). NASA contracted the work to Australia's Overseas Telecommunications Commission (OTC). The station was decommissioned in April 1987, but the site is still involved in solar scientific research, hosting a node of the Birmingham Solar Oscillations Network operated by the High Resolution Optical Spectroscopy group of the University of Birmingham, UK.

The Carnarvon tracking station was critical to the Apollo Moon project, including Apollo 11's historic first Moon landing flight from launch on 16 July 1969 to splash down on 24 July, 8 days later. Neil Armstrong's first step onto the Moon's surface at 02:56 UTC (Coordinated Universal Time) on 21 July 1969 was broadcast live on TV to a worldwide audience of 600 million people.[10] The Parkes Radio Telescope in NSW played a vital role in relaying this coverage, as told in Woomera#Australian space events. As Armstrong stepped for the first time from the Lunar Module onto the surface of the Moon he said:

Carnarvon was the other side of the earth to NASA's Mission Control Center in Houston, USA, and was the first to know if a solid orbit had been achieved. They relayed telemetry information from the spacecraft to Houston for assessment that the craft was ready, and relayed the green light for the final thrust into space to the spacecraft with a simple message: "Okay, go!". Carnarvon was also the last point of communication before the silent minutes of re-entry and splash down in the Pacific Ocean.[10]

See also

Broome Bowling Club

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Albert Einstein's General Theory of Relativity predicts the bending of light by the gravity of Ngaangk (the Sun). This can be tested during a solar eclipse when Jindang (Stars) near the Sun can be observed (normally their light is drowned in the light from the Sun). Photographs made during the eclipse allow the stars' positions to be compared to their expected positions, as determined as if the Sun were not present. This was first done in the 1919 Solar eclipse in South America and Africa. The result was front page news and it made Einstein and his theory world-famous. When asked what his reaction would have been if General Relativity had not been confirmed in 1919, Einstein famously made the quip: "Then I would have felt sorry for the dear Lord. The theory is correct".[11] However, the accuracy was poor and although accepted by the public as proof of the theory of General Relativity, the experiment really needed to be repeated. The next opportunity would be the 1922 Solar eclipse whose track passed over WA, near Broome.

A major scientific expedition was organized (including staff from Perth Observatory) to photograph the eclipse of the sun at Wallal, 350 kilometres south of Broome. The photographic plates were brought back to Broome and developed in the radio station building there (see photographic film processing), where they provided conclusive proof that Ngaangk caused space to curve; the first test of General Relativity had been passed.[12][13] Note that some people consider this expedition to have provided the first proof of General Relativity, as the results were unequivocal, unlike the earlier results from 1919.

The building where these photographs were developed still exists and is now the Broome Bowling Club toilet block!

Muchea Tracking Station

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John Glenn in orbit inside Friendship 7

Muchea Tracking Station was a Ground station located close to Muchea in the Shire of Chittering, about 60 km north of Perth, built specifically for NASA's Project Mercury. It was established in 1960 and closed in February 1964, after the end of Project Mercury. It was replaced by the Carnarvon Tracking Station (see the "Carnarvon Space and Technology Museum" above) for the Gemini and Apollo projects.

An Australian Communications Technician spoke to John Glenn aboard his spaceship Friendship 7 on his first pass over the West Australian coast. A small plaque has been installed on the spot occupied by the communication console which reads: "This plaque is to mark the spot where an Australian first spoke to a space traveller". There is a small display about the history of the Tracking Station.

Learmonth Solar Observatory

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Learmonth Solar Observatory near the town of Exmouth is jointly operated by the Bureau of Meteorology - Space Weather Services[14] and the US Air Force. The observatory is the site of one of six solar velocity imagers in the world-wide GONG (Global Oscillation Network Group) network operated by the NSO (US National Solar Observatory).

New Norcia Station

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New Norcia 35 metre dish NNO-1
Voyager Golden Record on spacecraft
Voyager Golden Record greeting (English)

New Norcia Station (also known as NNO) is a European Space Agency (ESA) Earth station for communication with spacecraft after launch - whether in low earth orbit, in geostationary orbit or in deep space. It is located 10 km South of the town of New Norcia. The station operates a main 35 metre dish designated NNO-1 and a 4.5 metre dish called NNO-2 - which was installed because the narrow beam width of the 35 metre dish caused problems in acquiring spacecraft during their ascent stage.

On 27 November 2018 Dalkeith Primary School Year 5 and 6 students transmitted a signal representing a ‘golden record’ into space from the 35 m deep space antenna. The target was the closest Jindang (Star) to Ngaangk (Sun), Proxima Centauri, 4.2 light years away. The 'golden record' was inspired by the Voyager space missions. In 1977 NASA sent two gold-dipped gramophone records into space on board the spacecraft Voyager 1 and Voyager 2. Those records were filled with illustrations, photos and messages for the Universe - 116 images and a variety of sounds meant to represent Earth and humanity, everything from Bach to Louis Armstrong. The Dalkeith Primary School record is a contemporary, youth-led portrait of our species focused on how things have changed on Earth since the Voyager golden records, and what’s important to Generation Z.[15]

Ngiyan waarnk - References

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  1. Astronomy WA website
  2. Alexander Lazarian, et al (2015). "Magnetic Fields in Diffuse Media". Pub. Springer, Heidelberg. p 11. ISBN 978-3-662-44624-9
  3. "The Square Kilometre Array" brochure. SKA Telescope Square Kilometre Array. Retrieved 18 November 2018
  4. "Australia". SKA Telescope Square Kilometre Array. Retrieved 8 November 2018
  5. "ASKAP Technical Specifications and Sensitivities". Australian Telescope National Facility. CSIRO. Retrieved 17 November 2018
  6. "Mid West Regional Blueprint". Mid West Development Commission. Retrieved 27 December 2015
  7. "Leaning Tower of Gingin - Gravity Discovery Centre". Gravity Discovery Centre. Retrieved 10 November 2018
  8. Antony C Searle, Susan M Scott, David E McClelland, L Samuel Finn (2006). "Optimal location of a new interferometric gravitational wave observatory". Physical Review D. Vol 73. Iss 12. pp 124014. DOI 10.1103/PhysRevD.73.124014
  9. Emma Wynne . "The old Perth observatory: From isolated weather station to centre of history". ABC News. 11 September 2015. Retrieved 12 November 2018
  10. 10.0 10.1 Tracey Stewart. "How the Apollo 11 Moon landing was achieved with the vital help of Carnarvon Tracking Station". ABC News. 16 July 2019. Retrieved 16 July 2019
  11. Ilse Rosenthal-Schneider (1980). "Reality and Scientific Truth : Discussions with Einstein, von Laue, and Planck". p. 74
  12. Ben Collins. "Einstein's general theory of relativity passed first test at what is now an Australian lawn bowls club toilet". ABC News Kimberley. 24 September 2018. Retrieved 9 March 2019
  13. Geoff Barker. "Einstein’s Theory of Relativity Proven in Australia, 1922". Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, Sydney. 22 August 2012. Retrieved 9 March 2019
  14. Learmonth Observatory. Bureau of Meteorology - Space Weather Services. Retrieved 15 November 2018
  15. "New Norcia Dish sends Perth kids’ messages to the cosmos". ICRAR. 27 November 2018. Retrieved 11 March 2019