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Parkes telescope granted SKA Pathfinder status

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CSIRO’s Parkes radio telescope. Credit: John Sarkissian

Thursday 7 April 2016, SKA global Headquarters – The iconic Parkes telescope in Australia, run by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), has been granted pathfinder status by SKA Organisation.

This announcement welcomes Parkes into the group of other world-leading instruments and systems engaged in SKA-related technology development and science studies, such as the Arecibo Observatory, LOFAR and the EVLA.

Parkes Observatory in New South Wales hosts the 64-metre Parkes radio telescope, affectionately known by many as ‘The Dish’.

Parkes has been in operation since 1961 and continues to be at the forefront of astronomical discovery thanks to regular upgrades. Its many contributions include playing an instrumental role in the Apollo 11 Moon landing in 1969, the detection of the majority of currently-known Fast Radio Bursts (FRBs), and significant discoveries in the study of pulsars – a field in which the SKA will play a fundamental role.

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The specially-designed phased array feed, built for use on the Effelsberg telescope in Germany. Credit: John Sarkissian, CSIRO.

Parkes’ newly-granted pathfinder status is based on its role in testing innovative new receivers. This includes deploying, commissioning and developing phased array feed (PAF) receivers for radio astronomy, based on the receivers designed and commissioned on CSIRO’s Australian SKA Pathfinder (ASKAP) telescope – itself one of three SKA precursor telescopes.

The PAF work at Parkes will play a key role in the technological development of these receivers, which are under consideration for the SKA.

The Dish recently welcomed the arrival of a PAF receiver, designed and built as part of an agreement with the Max Planck Institute for Radioastronomy (MPIfR). Once characterisation testing is complete on the Parkes telescope, this PAF will be deployed on the Effelsberg telescope in Germany.

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The ultra-wideband feed undergoing performance testing. Credit: Alex Dunning, CSIRO.

Into the future Parkes will also develop ultra-wideband single pixel feed receivers, similar to those currently being developed by Onsala Space Observatory in Sweden as part of the development of SKA technologies.

A full list of SKA precursors and pathfinders is available on the SKA website.