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August 19, 2001
One month (Gail)

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At Parkes Radio Telescope

Well we did it. We've made one month, three countries and who knows how many thousands of miles. We've traveled by plane, scooter, station wagon, ferry and motor home. We've enjoyed the tropical warmth of Rarotonga, the chill of a New Zealand winter and the changing temperatures of Australia. We've been incredibly lucky with good weather when we needed it. From the ocean to the mountains we've seen a lot. It seems we've already packed more into this one month than we expected and Australia has three and one half weeks to go!

First let me say that Australia is huge. Okay, so you knew this already but when you're driving it, it is so much more evident. Once out of the main coastal cities (and most of Australia's population) there are vast expanses of bush then you hit a small town (think 300 people as large) then you're into vast expanses again.

One of the larger inland towns has been Dubbo (the zoo). We used Dubbo as our inland base. The day after we went to the zoo, we went to Parkes for the day. Never heard of Parkes? Recently a movie came out called "The Dish" about Australia's part in the US moonwalk. This was that radio telescope. The movie is one of our favorites and when we found how close we were, we had to go. Right now the dish is involved in a survey to record the position and speeds of galaxies over the whole sky out to a distance of about 500 million light years. Recent advances in technology cut the survey time down from 65 years to just 5, results are already coming in.

We drove the 150 km on a very blustery morning. The wind had really kicked up, buffeting the motor home around quite a bit and the temp had dropped considerably from our zoo day the day before (when we had great luck with the weather again). From the road we could see the 64-meter diameter satellite dish rising out of the trees and fields. The boys finally showed some enthusiasm for something out their window.

Based on our past experiences we had a quick lunch before we went in. The "whisper satellites" outside amazed both boys. You stand in one whisper and the other person across the way hears you in theirs; they want one of their own now. Once inside we watched one movie about the dish and another 3d movie about the sun. The 3d was a hit, the dish one was too technical for the boys.

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If Joss (in the distance) whispers, Cam can hear it

We were very lucky to be there when they moved the dish to listen to another part of the universe. Because you can get within half a football field length from it you can hear it moving and really appreciate just how big it is. Of course the boys wanted to go outside…to play on the playground. When I asked the boys how scientists are able to listen to the stars during the day Joss declared that the stars are behind the clouds during the day. He was partly right, as it was cloudy that day. They didn't want to leave because they were very busy working on universe puzzles that were set up in the science center.

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The boys at the playground

The next day we left Dubbo headed for Brisbane driving through bushland, the gold country, fossickers way (a fossicker is someone who kicks around in the dirt uncovering gems, sapphires in this case), the granite belt (fruit seemed to be more evident). We saw five live hopping kangaroos at various times, hundreds of brightly colored parrots, one large bird (Emu, Rhea???), one great sunset, and drove over a lot of very rough road.

After two days of driving we are finally in Brisbane. Russell took some time tonight to do a science lesson about the speed of light and how the telescope "listens" to the universe. What the boys wrote in their journals shows they do understand.

 

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