The Australia Telescope National Facility is one of the world's most advanced radio astronomy facilities, and the only one of its kind in the southern hemisphere.
With a unique view of the southern hemisphere sky across a broad spectrum of radio frequencies, the ATNF occupies an important place in international radio astronomy.
It is made up of radio telescopes at three observatories in New South Wales:
- the 64-metre Parkes radio telescope, also known as 'The Dish'
- a set of six 22-metre diameter antennas near Narrabri, called the Australia Telescope Compact Array
- a single 22-metre antenna near Coonabarabran, known as the Mopra radio telescope.
We are also constructing a next-generation radio telescope, the Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder – ASKAP, in remote Western Australia. Commissioning of ASKAP is currently underway and the telescope has begun producing its first science results; it is now an integral part of the ATNF.
Science with the ATNF
The ATNF is Australia's largest single astronomy institution and conducts 90 per cent of Australian radio astronomy research. It is used to investigate a broad range of subjects – from the evolution of galaxies, magnetic fields and black holes to using pulsars, rapidly spinning neutron stars, to look for gravitational waves.
Research conducted with the ATNF has high-level impact. In a recent independent study the Australia Telescope Compact Array ranked second, and the Parkes radio telescope third, among the world's radio telescopes in terms of the total number of citations to research papers.
ATNF users are international
Each year the facility is used by about 400 astronomers from more than 20 countries. Observers use the facility without charge in keeping with the general practice of the worldwide astronomy community, in which telescope users from different countries gain reciprocal access to facilities on the basis of merit.
Observing is done 24 hours a day, every day of the year, from our dedicated observing facilities or from users' own institutions. Researchers are granted observing time on the telescopes by a committee made up of expert assessors who review all applications and award time according to the merit of the proposed science program.
Technologies supporting the ATNF
Operating the ATNF requires skills and expertise in the design, construction and maintenance of highly complex technical systems, and in the scheduling of observing time, maintenance and upgrades.
We are also expert in areas such as:
- receiver systems
- signal processing
- data transfer and recording
- specialised software for radio astronomy – and many others.
Technical research and development supporting upgrades of the ATNF are conducted at our Astronomy and Space Science headquarters in Sydney.