The Mopra Panorama Gallery

A brief introduction

Welcome to the Mopra Panorama Gallery. My name is Balthasar Indermühle, I am a Senior Experimental Scientist at CSIRO, and was in the role of the Mopra Millimetre Scientist from 2007 until October 2015. On these pages, I'll show you the sights and sounds around our favourite millimetre wavelength telescope.
Over the past 8 years, more than 250 scientific experiments and observations were run with the Mopra telescope, many of them long running, multi year projects with international participation. The telescope can be completely remotely controlled and operated from anywhere on the planet, and thanks to improvements made to the observing software and engineering, the useful astronomy time has jumped from about 75% prior to 2009 to well over 90% since then. This means the telescope is hardly ever idle: During approximately 7 months of allocated millimetre wavelength observing time each year, only about 10 days are lost, mostly due to weather. The rarity with which we encounter technical problems keeping us from observing is - for a research telescope - outstanding, especially considering that we had to recover this telescope after a devastating bush fire in 2013.

While we have survived the bushfire, it is the funding cuts to Australian science that might spell disaster for this highly efficient research facility. There remains at least another five years of cutting edge science to be done with this telescope - even without making any future proofing investments. Our crowdsourcing attempt on Kickstarter which raised more than $91000 from over 1200 backers shows that there are many citizens around us who understand the importance of ongoing fundamental research.

I took the opportunity on a recent maintenance trip to thoroughly document the sights and sounds in and around the Mopra telescope - an audiovisual inventory so to speak. This will enable all of those who've never had the privilege to come to the telescope to experience almost first hand what it is like to be underneath, inside, and on top of this 240 ton behemoth as it is doing science for the benefit of us all and mankind at large.

Thank you for your support, and for stopping by. I hope you enjoy!

Dr Balthasar Indermühle

The Panoramas

Click on the preview image to step into the respective panorama. Remember to turn on the sound as most of these have background sounds taken at the actual location the photos were taken.

Outside view from the front of the antenna. To the right you can see the control building. You can hear the humming of the drive motors and the wind is whistling softly in the telescope support structure.
Standing between the control room and the telescope, about an hour before sunset. We can start to feel the impressive size and mass of the telescope: The dish is 22 metres in diameter and weighs about 240 tons.
Here we are standing outside the alidade room at the base of the antenna. This provides an impressive view of the sheer mass of the telescope up above us.
This is a flat panorama, unlike the other ones, not 360 degrees surround. Instead, you can zoom in to reveal intricate detail such as the rivets holding the panels together, or the special goretex membrane covering the receivers in the vertex room.
At night you can see the milkyway above, the dark clouds we are mapping with the Mopra telescope painting dark contours against the bright sea of billions of suns lighting up the sky in this cosmic spectacle.
Standing on the compressor level, we can see the elevation drive right next to us with the wedge shaped cog track used to drive the antenna in elevation. The antenna is very delicately balanced, it is possible to tilt the antenna manually using a hand crank should the drive motors fail.
Climbing up one level further, this is the left balcony. From there, cryogenic lines are connecting the compressors one level further down with the vacuum systems inside the vertex room. You can see the lines go down behind you. The faint pulsating noise of the cryo pump is now barely audible.
Back on the compressor level again (and on the other side of the elevation drive as in the previous compressor level panorama), we can hear the compressors hard at work. At the based of the elevation drive you can see the hand crank we can use to tilt the antenna!
Climbing further up onto the right hand side balcony, we are in the middle of the access walkway to the vertex room. To our right and up we can see the crane used to lift heavy receiver components onto this level.
At the door to access the vertex room we can feel the huge antenna loom above our heads! We can also see the beautiful landscape of the Warrumbungle mountains through the back support structure of the telescope. This structure keeps the telescope shape to within less than 0.3mm in all junction points!
Entering the first floor of the vertex room we can see the bottom end of the centimetre wavelength receivers. Their feed horns (antennas) are so long that they penetrate through the floor from the focus floor above. The mm receivers, which we are using now most of the time, are small enough to all fit upstairs. You can also see numerous control electronics on this floor, as well as the vacuum system tubing and control valves. The sound is now distinctly louder, you can hear the cyclic pumping of the vacuum pump and the hum of various electronics cooling fans.
This is the upper floor in the vertex room. You can see the 20cm feedhorn (the giant white bucket!) in the background, and the small feedhorns aligned with the optical axis of the telescope are the millimetre receivers currently on axis. They can receive from 16-26, 30-48 and 76-116 GHz in frequency. There's a door in the wall, this leads out onto the dish surface. We're going there next!
For this image we have climbed up through the vertex room and exited onto the dish. We're now standing on top of the vertex dome, which protects the receiver systems from the elements by just a goretex membrane. You can see the subreflector above us. Both the subreflector and the main dish surface have lots of black dots on them. We put those there a year ago when we measured the surface accuracy of the dish with a method call photogrammetry. You can faintly hear the vacuum pumps, and also some local native birds. It's otherwise very still (but very bright!) inside the dish when pointing up!
Stepping down into the dish itself, we have to be careful to only walk on the junctions so as not the bend the aluminium surface panels out of shape! They are carefully aligned to maintain 0.3mm of surface accuracy.
This is the control room. While we can drive and operate the telescope from anywhere on the planet, we can obviously also do it from here. When doing hardware maintenance, we often sit here and test drive the systems while the engineers are either on the antenna or in the screened room behind the glass divider.
Inside the screened room you can see the various critical bits of infrastructure we need to run this telescope. To the right are the communications cabinets, fibre optics and LAN connections, the hydrogen maser which we use as an extremely precise timing source (we also have GPS receiver for time keeping) is in the back, and to the right of the maser you can see the MOPS cabinet, this is where all the magic happens for our molecular cloud surveys: The unravelling of the signal into spectral lines occurs inside that machine! It's very loud from all the fans and airconditioning machines inside.
Last but not least, we pay a quick visit to the alidade room. This is the container sized building residing underneath the antenna (and turning with the antenna as it moves). You can see the antenna control computer screen, showing us that we're remote controlling the telescope (zoom in to read the screen!). To the right of this cabinet you can see the drive UPS, which has enough batteries to allow stowing of the telescope should the power fail. You can also see some workbenches where soldering and other electronics work is done. You can hear the drive motors distinct sound inside this metal resonating body.