August 2020: the 700 Kilometre Array has now been extended by thousands of kilometres to cover all of Southeastern Australia’s rural Inland. Please see https://bigskiescollaboration.wordpress.com/projects/astro-trail/
Posted 5 March, 2016
So you’ve heard about the Square Kilometre Array or SKA, the Australia Telescope Compact Array (ATCA), and the Parkes Pulsar Timing Array (PPTA)? But what about the 700 Kilometre Array, or 700KA, in inland rural Australia?
‘Array’ is a collective noun for an assemblage of entities that are connected in some way, sort of like a mob of sheep or a gaggle of geese. In astronomy, ‘array’ usually refers to a collection of very similar linked telescopes or observational objects. Our 700 Km Array is a different kind of collectivity though because it includes hundreds of dissimilar observatories which are linked together conceptually by purpose, functionalities, technologies, geography and/or cultural heritage.
The 700KA observatories includes large radio and optical telescopes, many of them world-class; astronomical sites created by the region’s First Peoples over tens of thousands of years; C19th and C20th heritage sites from which migrants from the northern hemisphere and their descendants gazed at our southern inland sky for the first time; and hundreds of backyards, parks, paddocks, and other dark sky places from which C21st amateur astronomers are exploring the cosmos and gaining new insights.
Together these observatories form a fuzzy zone of astronomical significance stretching through 60,000 years of Earth time, and around 700 kilometres of Earth space, from Tidbinbilla and Mount Stromlo in the Australian Capital Territory, to Parkes in Central New South Wales, then north to Coonabarabran and Narrabri in the state’s north. From the mountains and valleys of Ngunnawal, Ngarigo, and Walgalu Country, across the vast riverine plains of Wiradjuri Country, and north through the plains and rugged ranges of Gamilaraay Country.
More specifically, the 700KA includes the following sites of astronomical significance:
- stone arrangements, dreaming trails or songlines, and geographical features of astronomical and spiritual significance to the First Peoples of inland eastern Australia
- the Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex (also known as the Tidbinbilla Tracking Station), part of NASA’s Deep Space Network
- Sydney University’s Molongolo Observatory Synthesis Telescope (MOST) and now UTMOST
- the Australian National University’s Mount Stromlo Observatory
- the sites of the old Honeysuckle Creek Tracking Station and the Orroral Valley Tracking Station near Canberra
- CSIRO’s Parkes Observatory
- some 44 telescopes at the ANU Research School of Astronomy & Astrophysics (RSAA)’s Siding Spring Observatory near Coonabarabran, including RSAA’s Sky Mapper and Uppsala Southern Schmidt Telescope, the Anglo-Australian Telescope and UK Schmidt Telescope operated by the AAO, the Faulkes Telescope South owned by Las Cumbres Observatory Global Telescope Network (LCOGT.net), the itelescope.net installations, and Macquarie University’s new Huntsman Telephoto Array
- CSIRO’s Mopra Telescope near Coonabarabran
- CSIRO’s Australia Telescope Compact Array (ATCA), the Sydney University Stellar Interferometer (SUSI), and a node of the Birmingham Solar Oscillations Network at the Paul Wild Observatory near Narrabri
- the Bohema Creek Cosmic Ray Observatory near Narrabri and the nearby site of Sydney University’s now decommissioned Narrabri Stellar Intensity Interferometer
- multiple community night-viewing sites, such as the Central West Astronomical Society’s patch near the village of Cookamidgera
- miscellaneous heritage sites, such as C19th gold diggings and pastoral stations, where migrant stargazers from many parts of the world, including Europe, China, India, Southwest Asia, Afghanistan, the Pacific Islands, and the Americas, looked at our Southern sky and told their own stories about it
- plus at least one outlier, the historic Sydney Telescope, on Observatory Hill overlooking Sydney Harbour, which is now part of the Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences (MAAS)
[Please note: this post is a work in progress. A fuller account of the 700 Kilometre Array and its Astronomy Trail will be added after I’ve had time to do more research. I’ve posted this preliminary outline now, however, because there has been so much interest in the concept since I first mooted it with associates at the beginning of March 2016. Please visit again soon for more! MF, 5 March 2016.]
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Page created 5 March 2016. Editorial revisions and several additions to the list of 700KA observatories made on 30 March 2016 after I returned from the 27th National Australian Convention of Amateur Astronomers (NACAA) in Sydney over the Easter Weekend. Last revised 18-19 April 2016 with the addition of the Sydney Observatory following a series of emails and phone conversations with observatory manager, Marnie Ogg; and a direct link to the AAO after a very engaging phone conversation with astrophycist Andrew Hopkins, head of AAO’s Science and Outreach. Revised again 31 December 2016 to add Sydney University’s Molonglo Observatory Synthesis Telescope (MOST) and its upgrade, UTMOST, which I somehow missed adding back in March 2016. And again on 5 January 2017, when I finally learned how to insert a google map showing the geographical extent of the 700KA.
Map last updated 22 January 2018. Text last updated 12 December 2018 when I added the date of the post to the top of the page. Last updated 4 August 2020.
2 thoughts on “Introducing the 700 Km Array”
Here is another small piece of space history for you. Did you know that Australia was just the third nation after Russia and the US to launch their own spacecraft from their own territory? This happened on 29 November 1967, The satellite was built in Adelaide in just 11 months, tested at the Orroral tracking station and launched from Woomera in South Australia and was completely successful.
(France did launch one before this but it was launched from Algeria and not from French home soil.)
Orroral Valley Tracking Station 1966 – 1985
Former Senior Operations Supervisor.
Many thanks Philip. I walked around the Orroral Valley Tracking Station on the same day as my visit to Honeysuckle Creek (September 2016) and took lots of photos, including one of the signage about the satellite as a note to myself to do more research on it! Unfortunately I’m a bit behind with my blog posts on my field visits. I did manage to post a response to Honeysuckle Creek but Orrorol Valley is still on my long To Do list, as is CSIRO’s Paul Wild Observatory at Narrabri, ANU’s Siding Spring Observatory and other places of significance in our 700KA. The site of your old tracking station is a very dramatic place now, with even more bare concrete slabs than Honeysuckle! I found it quite haunting. I’d love to interview you about what it was like working there in its heyday.