Happy Birthday, Arecibo!

The Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico was completed 50 years ago next month, in November 1963. It was an engineering milestone, and remains the world’s largest single-dish radio telescope, with a diameter of 305 m (1000 feet).

IEEE/ASME plaque at Arecibo (photo: Chris Amelung)

The Arecibo team have been celebrating all year (with a special anniversary symposium currently live on UMETIPTV). And justifiably so: it’s been 50 years of good work. Well done, team! Now, if only we could get you the world’s largest cake…

Update: The symposium is over, but Wired has a great article on the observatory.

The Dish: a movie review

Movie poster

The Dish is a classic Australian comedy from 2000, telling the story of how the CSIRO Parkes Observatory assisted with the Apollo 11 moon landing.

Movie trailer

The film contains some technical errors and oversimplifications, notably inventing some episodes for dramatic effect, cutting the telescope’s staff headcount, and downplaying the role of the Honeysuckle Creek Tracking Station (which was closed in 1981). However, those simplifications were probably necessary for dramatic reasons (see also CSIRO’s “fact vs fiction” list and history pages). The movie does get across the sense of excitement of the Apollo programme, as well as reminding us what the 60’s were like, and giving a light-hearted view of the cultural differences between Australia and the USA. And, of course, it’s very funny.

PDP-9 at the Monash University Computer Museum

Veteran actor Sam Neill does a great job in the film, as does the rest of the cast. The Dish also has superb props, including authentic vintage technology, such as the DEC PDP-9 shown above. Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a 96% rating. It’s certainly worth watching!

The dish is still operating at Parkes (photo: John Sarkissian, CSIRO Parkes Observatory)

Parkes is still very active scientifically; recent papers include “The Parkes Pulsar Timing Array Project” and “Parkes full polarization spectra of OH masers – I. Galactic longitudes 350° through the Galactic Centre to 41°.”

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The Dish: 4 stars