Time lapse: stunning Australian skies over a pathfinding array

By Phil Plait | October 3, 2012 9:58 am

In the Australian Outback, hundreds of kilometers from the noise and lights of any city, stand three dozen radio telescopes, each a dozen meters across. Working as a single unit, they patrol the skies looking at cosmic objects emitting low-energy light.

Photographer Alex Cherney visited this remote observatory and created a really lovely time lapse video of the telescopes at work:

[The video is also available on YouTube.]

The telescopes taken together are called the Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder, or ASKAP. The Square Kilometer Array is a project currently underway in Australia and South Africa to create the largest radio telescope in the world. ASKAP is a testbed for SKA, used to check out various technology and techniques that SKA will employ. But ASKAP is a full-fledged observatory in its own right, and will add to our arsenal of instruments peering into deep space.

The video is beautiful, and as always when I watch these from Australia, I’m overwhelmed by the southern skies. The stars are different than the ones we see up here, but it’s not just that. What always gets me is how, from my own experience, the motion is backwards! When I want to see Orion from my home I face south; it rises on my left, moving to the upper right. But in Oz, it rises on the right and moves to the left! Things are flipped when you’re upside-down relative to what you’re used to… and that’s driven home by seeing Orion standing on his head!

And the Milky Way. Wow. The center of our spiral galaxy never gets very high from Boulder, but in Australia it passes well overhead, freed from the haze and murk of the horizon. Blazing gloriously, in it you can pick out nebulae, dust clouds, and more as you gaze over tens of thousands of light years of interstellar space. Alpha and Beta Centauri, the Coal Sack, the Large Magellanic Cloud… all of these are easy to spot to the trained eye.

Every time I’m at a dark site and I look out into the sky, I soak up its beauty and am awed by it. But more than that, I know what I’m looking at. Knowledge adds another dimension to what you see, a profound sense of connection and understanding that warms the brain and the heart.

Learn everything you can. Not just about astronomy, but everything. Don’t be afraid of knowledge; revel in it. Far from taking away any beauty or art from the world, it makes life richer, and far, far more wonderful.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, Cool stuff, Pretty pictures
MORE ABOUT: ASKAP, Australia, SKA, time lapse

Comments (14)

  1. Messier Tidy Upper

    That last paragraph in OP there? One word :



    Great clip & write up. Cheers. :-)

  2. Ted Hartley

    I was explaining to a group of 2nd graders about just look up and you are doing science. Jupiter and the Moon were close to each other and we talked about how cool it was. One girl who had been in South America this summer wanted to know why things looked backward. Thank Mattel for Barbie and Wilson for basketballs. It didn’t take long to show why.

  3. Ted

    Topic request:
    We got the radio waves of the universe for all time to listen to but apparently we aint picked up squat since we started listening so… why not? and is the man hiding them from us? I really want to listen to some out of this world music before I shuffle off. I wish it was a hundred years from now. Imagine all the radio stations you could listen to…

  4. Jeremy

    And if you are in the Southern Hemisphere and you want to see Orion rise on the right and move to the left, which way are you facing?

  5. Crux Australis

    I love the smiley face at 1:25!

  6. MadScientist

    I hope the SKA gets underway. Murchison’s a good site for the `center’ of the array but the geology and environment sure have their challenges. Still, I’m in favor of Australia hosting the array; I think there are far more practical problems to overcome in South Africa.

  7. Two things Phil:

    Move here to oz mate!!

    Some of your words here remind me of this wonderful video: http://zepfanman.com/2010/11/science-saved-my-soul-transcript/



  8. Dudley Fish

    Your write-up was superb. And the last paragraph just reached out and hugged me. Thank you for reminding the world how precious knowledge is.

  9. Menyambal

    I like how at 2:20 or so it looks like van Gogh’s Starry Night.

    And yes to learning everything. I’m gonna go read the web page I used to double-check the name of the painting.

    Thanks, Phil.

  10. I have never been able to describe the experience of seeing the Milky Way from the South Africa SKA site while standing under the KAT-7 dishes. This video comes pretty close to conveying that experience.

  11. NeilNZ

    New Zealand will also be hosting a (small?) part of the SKA.

  12. Paul Hannah

    Come on over and see for yourself. Our guest rooms are empty at the moment and we might find a couple of things for you to see in the daytime.

  13. Matt B.

    Should have been scored with some ska music. Ha ha!


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