posted 02-07-2007 05:07 AM
Well — what a fantastic trip.
We headed off to Parkes by train and bus and we had beautiful views of the Blue Mountains and amazing Australian scenery as we made our way toward our destination.
A few of you who know me well know that I suffer amazingly good luck — even in really bad situations — this held true again as the car rental firm had told us we needed to collect the rental from the airport. Long story short, they were wrong, the airport was shut and we ended up spending 2.5 hours waiting for someone to turn up to meet us but they never did.
The good news on all this was that we ran into Adam from the Parkes Aero Club who offered great hospitality in the club rooms where we were also joined by an ABC camera crew and Bill, the club President. In conversation I asked if anyone did scenic flights over the radio telescope and before we knew it we were geared up for a flight that evening with Adam in the club Cessna.
After sorting the rental car we arrived back at the airport and Adam took us for a couple of circuits around the telescope before heading back over Parkes and on to Forbes (obviously a must for this cSer)!
Just over Parkes he quietly asked if I might be interested in flying the plane for a bit — and so I had my long-awaited first time flying! What a fantastic experience. I flew over Forbes and then back around to Parkes and then on for a last loop around the telescope before Adam took us back to Parkes airport where we shared a few well deserved Australian beers!
The Dish is an amazing thing to see and it was wonderful to have a first view of it from the air. What a fantastic experience that was. For those of you who have seen the movie — it is really in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by sheep paddocks (sadly very brown and dry with the appalling drought much of Australia is suffering) but just such an amazing thing to see.
On Sunday we had a full day tip over to the visitor centre planned and we were the only people there when we arrived. Apparently there are normally hundreds of visitors a day, but as this was the first Sunday after people had gone back to school I don't think there were more than 30 or 40 other people there all day. This meant we could take plenty of time to relax and just enjoy the time there.
The Dish cafe is beside the visitor centre, and if ever you go, I suggest getting a cup of coffee and (depending on the sun angle) sitting on the orange vinyl couch outside and just taking time to appreciate the marvel of the telescope (yes — there was an orange vinyl couch and we sat on it for 3 hours in 38 degrees C watching the dish...).
I think that the time I spent sitting watching the slow and graceful movement of the dish as it tracked the Magellanic clouds it was mapping is one of the most serene and peaceful times I have experienced in my life. There is dead quiet other than the sound of the tracking gears, the occasional bird, and the slow, steady movement of this amazing creation is simply mesmerising.
Of course there are some moments that are less philosophical that remind you of the realities of working somewhere like this — including the worker who pulled up outside the base of the telescope on his bike, and the one who walked over carrying an umbrella to protect himself from the heat...
After a great lunch, and more sticky time in the vinyl couch it was time to go and, quite regretfully, we headed back to the hotel.
If ever you are in Australia, do take the time to visit the Dish — it is a great place and an incredible experience. And there are some souvenirs that remind you not to take life too seriously — like the Dish shot glass with the important information that "The Moon is 5,485,714,285 shotglasses away from Earth..... Approx."
I'll drink to that!