Mopra Millimetre Wave Telescope
The Mopra Telescope, Coonabarabran

The Mopra Telescope is a 22-m diameter millimetre-wave telescope, situated below Siding Spring Observatory near Coonabarabran in the Warrumbungles National Park of NSW. It is the largest telescope of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere, and the fourth largest in the world, thanks to a collaborative project between the UNSW and the CSIRO to upgrade the facility from a 15-m diameter mm-telescope. UNSW has been operating the facility on behalf of the Australian astronomy community since the upgrade, supporting external use of the telescope, and getting 6 weeks of observing time for our own projects in return.

Millimetre-astronomy is an emerging field in the discipline, and there a number of major mm-wave telescopes under construction around the world. Millimetre-wavelengths are particularly useful for studying molecules in space, through the rotational transitions of many species. Their lines provide probes of the environment of the dense clouds of gas where stars are born, hidden from our view at visible wavelengths. Under an MNRF-funded program Australia is developing a mm-interferometer for the Australia Telescope, the national radio observatory, in order to participate in the new opportunities that technology developments have brought to the field. However, we have also lacked a significant community of scientists skilled in the field, able to take advantage of a new facility. Our aim at UNSW has been to create that community, and over the past couple of years we have been working towards this goal. With the Mopra Telescope we can train graduate students in the skills of the discipline, providing them first-hand experience of the operation of a complex scientific facility. It has also attracted interest in our group, with several new researchers joining, as well as helping foster collaborative projects with groups elsewhere in Australia and overseas.

Changes don’t happen overnight, and it has taken three years of hard work to build the facility and our group to a position where we are now able to take advantage of the opportunity. Over the coming year, six major science projects have been identified for the telescope, some to be conducted with groups from Tasmania and Monash, as well as from the UK and the USA. We look forward to a lively scientific interaction, as we all build towards to completion of the millimetre interferometer of the Australia Telescope.

Michael Burton

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