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Chapter 1. The Australia Telescope Compact Array

Revision History
Revision 1.42016 Sep 14jbs
Added discussion of the 4cm and 15mm RFI we now know about, and change the 15mm recommended continuum frequencies. Update the upcoming configurations table.
Revision 1.32015 Nov 20jbs
Added discussion of the 16cm RFI environment, RFI monitor and mid-week RFI
Revision 1.22015 Oct 20jbs
Updated information about observing at the SOC
Revision 1.12014 May 30jbs
Revised out-of-date tables and figures
Revision 1.02014 Mar 20jbs
Initial Docbook revision

This chapter gives an overview of the Australia Telescope Compact Array (ATCA) and provides the information needed to prepare an observing proposal. As such, this chapter supercedes the Guide to Observations that was provided in the past (and which contained a lot of overlap with the previous Users Guide). The old Users Guide is still available and is recommended for those reducing pre-CABB data (i.e., observations before April 2009).

The ATCA consists of six 22-m radio antennas which can be configured with antenna spacings of up to 6km, located at the Paul Wild Observatory near Narrabri, some 550 km northwest of Sydney. It is one of the telescopes operated by the Australia Telescope National Facility (ATNF).

1.1. The Australia Telescope National Facility

The ATNF is managed as a National Facility by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO). Formerly part of the CSIRO Division of Radiophysics, it became a separate division in January 1989. The ATNF became a National Facility in April 1990. In December 2009, ATNF became part of a new Division, CSIRO Astronomy and Space Science (CASS), together with NASA Operations (including the Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex), and CSIRO Space Sciences and Technology. The Australia Telescope continues as a National Facility, providing world-class observing facilities for astronomers at Australian and overseas institutions.

The ATNF employs about 185 staff, including about 40 astronomers, with the majority of staff located at its headquarters in Marsfield, a suburb of Sydney (although Marsfield is sometimes referred to as Epping, a larger neighbouring suburb). The site was shared with the AAO (the Australian Astronomical Observatory, or before 2010, the Anglo-Australian Observatory) until 2012, when the AAO relocated to the nearby suburb of North Ryde.

Besides the ATCA, the ATNF operates the 64-m radio telescope at the Parkes Observatory (300 km west of Sydney) and a 22-m antenna at Mopra, 120 km south of the ATCA. In addition, the ATNF negotiates time with the CSIRO-administered 70-m and 34-m antennas at the Tidbinbilla Deep Space Tracking station outside Canberra. The ATNF telescopes are used together, in conjunction with the University of Tasmania telescopes at Hobart and Ceduna, as part of the Long Baseline Array for Very Long Baseline Interferometry (VLBI) observations. The ATNF is currently structured into four themes: Operations, Astrophysics, Technologies, and ASKAP. ASKAP (the Australian SKA Pathfinder), is a telescope being constructed by ATNF in Western Australia, and will be an array of thirty-six wide-field 12m antennas operating in the 0.7–1.8 GHz range. Commissioning of the first antennas is currently underway. More details are available at the ASKAP project website..

A biannual newsletter is produced by the ATNF which includes recent news items, scientific articles and time assignment information. All the newsletters are archived on the web, as are the ATNF Annual Reports.