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More adventures

Went canyoning today - was fantastic! There were four of us, plus a guide, so it was a bit more social this time. After a morning abseiling at Narrowneck (with more stunning views of the mountains), one of the others left to get back to Sydney while the rest of us had lunch at Empress Falls before walking down to the river and squeezing into wetsuits. The trip down the canyon was fantastic, it's been forming slowly over 50 million years or so and there are some pretty amazing rock formations. After some scambling, some walking and three jumps into deep pools, we arrived at the waterfall. That was a fun abseil! One of the others on the trip blocked most of the water while I was abseiling, then moved and let it all flood out so I got hit by a deluge halfway down! I had a waterproof camera so there will hopefullly be some pictures eventually... Can't believe people get paid to do this!!!

Posted by Megan on Thursday 22nd Mar 2007 (08:10 UTC) | Add a comment | Permalink

Conferences (and holidays)

Last week I attended IAU (International Astronomical Union) Symposium 242. Sounds like a boring title doesn't it? The subject was astrophysical masers and their environments (masers: think natural lasers in space, but at microwave frequecies) and it was held in Alice Springs, Australia. The conference was great, met lots of people, watched some famous astronomers (in the world of maser physics) dance a conga round the restaurent during the conference dinner, and saw some spectacular scenery.

This week I'm in the Blue Mountains, just inland of Sydney. It's absolutely awesome! Today I spent the entire day (8am to 6pm) climbing with a guide at a couple of places in the national park. Apart from my hands getting ripped to shreds (its all sandstone, ow) and some terrific grazes from when I fell off a nasty overhang, it was brilliant. Only about the third time I've ever climbed outdoors, but the first time I've had a go at using all the gear and done a multi-pitch climb. Belaying from a tiny cave ("the eyrie") halfway up a cliff overlooking gum trees was really incredible. Photos when I get home!

Posted by Megan on Tuesday 20th Mar 2007 (08:46 UTC) | Add a comment | Permalink

The telescope that never was

After completing the Mark I telescope, now known as the Lovell telescope, plans were made for several others. Some of them were built and have lasted - the Mark II was built in the 1960s and is still in operation at the Observatory today. Some were built but have been decommissioned - the Mark III was located at Wardle but was dismantled in the early 1990s. Others never got off the drawing board.

One such telescope was the Mark V, a proposed radio telescope which would have been 400-ft in diameter (for comparison, the Lovell is a mere 250-feet accross). This telescope was to be situated in a valley at Meifod in Wales but in the end it was never constructed. The firm of Husband and Co., the consulting engineers who worked closely with Lovell to design and construct the other large telescopes, did build a scale model of the Mark V which in itself is an impressive piece of work. For some time the model has been sat in storage, but a group of us went to collect it a couple of weeks ago.

Base of the Mark V modelTop of the Mark V model
Left: The base of the scale model of the Mark V telescope. Right: the top of the Mark V model. CREDIT: Megan

It's in a bit of a sorry state, covered in dust and pine needles (no idea where they came from!) and a lot of the brass "girders" have come loose over the years. Over a weekend I started to clean it up, collecting as many loose bits as I could find and cleaning them up so they could be soldered back on. It really is an impressive piece of work, very detailed and must have taken an age to complete. After so many years of neglect a lot of the joints are now very fragile and the whole base structure looks in danger of collapse. The quadrupod which would have held the receivers has collapsed already and needs some patience to stick back together. The bowl itself is not in bad condition, apart from being absolutely filthy! When I opened the wooden box under the base I had quite a suprise - the model was driven! There was a complete drive system in there, complete with a simple lever system which would have allowed you to control the direction of motion.

Mark V model drive system
The drive system for the model of the Mark V telescope CREDIT: Megan

I did try wiring the plug back on, with fire extinguisher on standby, but nothing happened. Probably a good thing, given the state of the base structure. After some investigation I got the drive system disconnected from the telescope structure, apart from the central drive shaft which would have controlled the elevation movement. Some other people have since had a go at it as well and got it seperated completely, but only by pulling the base structure in half! It looks like its going to be a big job to repair it and get it ready for display, but it will be fantastic when its done.

Control room repeaters
The old repeaters from the control room CREDIT: Megan

When we went to collect the Mark V, we also had a look at the rest of the items that we have in storage. This includes the Argus 100 computer which controlled the telescope before the Vax system was put in, and the old repeaters - a set of dials which used to sit in the control room and would tell the controller the position of the Lovell telescope (see above). Hopefully, when we have a new, larger visitor centre, some of this stuff might eventually go on display.

Posted by Megan on Thursday 01st Mar 2007 (16:25 UTC) | Add a comment | Permalink


Venus and Mercury
Venus and Mercury at sunset, February 2007 CREDIT: Megan

A few weeks ago, Mercury and Venus were both very easy to spot in the early evening as the Sun set. Here is an image I took looking west from the roof with my little digital camera, no special settings, just a tripod to keep it steady. There is also an unlabelled version of this one.

Posted by Megan on Thursday 01st Mar 2007 (15:02 UTC) | Add a comment | Permalink

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