Worlds of David Darling
Encyclopedia of Science
Home > Encyclopedia of Science

Australia Telescope National Facility (ATNF)

Paul Wild Observatory
The Australia Telescope Compact Array at the Paul Wild Observatory. Image credit: CSIRO

The Australia Telescope National Facility (ATNF) is an Australian radio astronomy facility opened in 1988. It consists of eight radio telescopes at three separate sites in New South Wales and is designed to use the aperture synthesis technique of mapping astronomical sources.

The Australia Telescope Compact Array (ATCA), located at the Paul Wild Observatory at Culgoora near Narrabri, consists of six antennas, each 22 meters (72 feet) in diameter. Five can be moved along a common east-west track, 3 km (2 miles) long. The sixth is on its own track a further 3 km to the west.

Greater resolving power is achieved by linking one or more of the antennas in the Compact Array with a seventh 22-meter dish, known as the Mopra Telescope, 100 km (60 miles) to the south near the Siding Spring optical observatory and the town of Coonabarabran, and the 64-meter (210-foot) radio telescope at the Parkes Observatory, which has been in use 1961 and is a further 200 km (120 miles) to the south. Together, these antennas form the Long Baseline Array.

A notable feature of the Australia Telescope is the particularly large range of wavelengths at which it can observe. This facility makes it possible to map the emission from interstellar molecules of spectral lines in the radio region of the spectrum.

Related category