The Dish

Overview: In the days before the famous July 19, 1969 space mission that marked humankind's first steps on the moon, NASA was working with a group of Australian technicians who had agreed to rig up a radio dish interface for TV transmission. That the Aussies placed the radio dish smack dab in the middle of an Australian sheep farm in the boondocks town of Parkes was just one of the reasons that NASA was concerned. Based on a true story, THE DISH takes a smart, witty, comical look at the differing cultural attitudes between Australia and the U.S. while revisiting one of the greatest events in history. Definitely worth a look. Plays at "artsy" theaters like the Ritz.

However, there are a coupla minor historical things that can be chalked up to literary license. According to Parkes Observatory Homesite, the following things just didn't happen.

Dish1
A REAL picture of the Parkes Dish in the sheep paddock!

Dish2
Photo CSIRO: The three principal players at Parkes: (L-R) John Bolton, Robert Taylor and Taffy Bowen.

Just recently, one of my students, Brian Mihaich, after viewing this page, mentioned that he noticed an error in the movie! They used cars near the dish! Now, at first thought, I didn't think that was any big deal and he was making something up. However, it makes perfect sense if you think of it. The Parkes dish is a radio wave receiver and amplifier. Regular internal combustion cars, like the one the young girl and the American Ambassador drove right up to the front door during operation, have spark plugs. Spark plugs make, well, sparks! Sparks have associated with them a large EM field including in the radio frequency range. Anyone who has tried to listen to a weak AM radio station in an older car knows the radio static spark plugs can produce. So, according the Brian, they use diesel vehicles on the grounds of a radio dish since diesel engines have no spark plugs. Cool! I'm awaiting confirmation on this, but for now, it makes perfect sense. He and his family visited a dish somewhere... ADDENDUM 12/08/02: Just got word from Brian's Mother, Berlinda, that the dish they visited on a family trip was the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Green Bank, West Virginia.

Addendum 12/06/02: Just got an email reply from my astronomer buddy, Phil Plait; an honest-ta-goodness astronomer previously of Goddard Space Center now of Sonoma University in sunny California. Visit his fabulous Bad Astronomy site! He concurs that the only vehicles used near an operating radio dish is of the non-sparking kind - diesel and bikes and such! So, my AP Fizzoid was correct! Nice job Brian! Apparently, according to Dr. Phil, PLAIT that is, at radio dish places like the VLA, Very Large Array, see picture below, it doesn't matter as much since the interference at one dish is easily filtered out by all the others. However, at a place like Parkes, little EM disturbances make a huge problem.

VLA
Very Large Array near Socorro, New Mexico

GBT @ Night
Green Bank's Big Guy, the Robert C. Byrd Telescope, Green Bank, West Virginia


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