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Guide to Remote Observing with the ATCA

Observing is possible from the Paul Wild Observatory in Narrabri and the Science Operations Centre in Marsfield, Sydney. Remote observing from other sites is available to suitably qualified observers (see below) with access to appropriate computing facilities and high-speed network. Care should be taken to ensure that your institution's security measures do not prevent remote observations from your site. For further advice, please contact

Limited accommodation is available on-site at Narrabri. See here for accommodation details.

Before the Observations

  • Please book for your observations using the ATCA Portal.
  • Get in touch with your observing expert to let them know your plans.
  • The VNC passwords are changed at the start of every semester. Information on how to obtain the new password is on the VNC Password page.
  • If you plan to observe from the dedicated Ara (ATCA) or Norma (Mopra) workstation at Marsfield then you will need to know the password for the "remobs" account. This is available from the Marsfield computing staff.

Observations are controlled using a virtual network connection (VNC) so you will need to install a vnc viewer on your computer. There are many options. If you already have a viewer installed this will probably work: If you need to install something, one of the following should work:

  • For Mac:
    • RealVNC which is favoured by a number of ATNF staff, but is somewhat clunky
    • TigerVNC which is favoured by ATNF computing staff or
    • Jump Desktop very good, but costs $AU40
    • Remoter is another paid client, costing $US10
    The Mac native VNC viewer should also work. From the Finder "Go" menu select "Connect to Server..." and type vnc:// or vnc://localhost:5901 if using ssh port forwarding as described below (replace 5901 with whatever you are using as the local port number).
    If you have any wisdom on this, please let us know.
  • For Linux:

For many monitoring tasks, you need access to MoniCA. If observing from the SOC, simply type monica in a terminal window. Otherwise, to install MoniCA on your own machine, see the MoniCA page for information on setting this up.

Starting Up a Remote Observing Session

Since observing is done through VNC, you will be able to effect current observations as soon as the connection is set up. Sometimes (always if you use the 'noshare' switch) when you connect to the vnc server it will kick other viewers off so, please, do not frivolously connect to the vncserver - and be prepared to reconnect if your viewer dissapears while you are observing

If you wish, you may choose to observe without using the xbones VNC. A description of how to do this can be found here.

Connecting from inside the ATNF

If you are connected inside the ATNF, all you need to do is connect your VNC viewer to the VNC sessions

Start the VNC viewer on your machine, then:

  • connect to caobs/vis display xbones:1
  • connect to the caccc1 display caccc1:1

Connection from outside ATNF

If you are connecting from outside that ATNF network, you need to set up ssh tunneling as well as connect your VNC viewer to VNC sessions

Setting up ssh tunnels

If you are outside the ATNF network, you first need to establish a ssh tunnels into the ATNF computers. In a terminal window, you need to connect to xbones and caccc1.

  • For xbones:
    ssh -L
  • For caccc1:
    ssh -L

Debugging Hints

1. Check the tunnel is working
Look for a program listing on port 5901 (and/or 5902). You should see something like:
% netstat -an |grep 5901
tcp 0 0* LISTEN

2. Check that the tunnel addresses are available
The ssh tunnels may be allocated to someone else - this would result in an error message like:
channel_setup_fwd_listener: cannot listen to port: 5901
Could not request local forwarding

To resolve this, use different (large) numbers (e.g. 5911 & 5912) to set up your ssh tunnels.


Note 1: the different local port number (5902) for the second connection

Note 2: can be used instead of

Connecting to the VNC

Start the VNC viewer on your machine, then:

  • connect to caobs/vis display localhost:1
  • connect to the caccc1 display localhost:2



Ensure that you exchange telephone numbers with the DA.

Some useful phone numbers

Emergency Services:
(fire, police, ambulance)
000 Additional 0 needed for an outside line
Marsfield Science Operations Centre
SOC "Astronomer" Desk02 9372 4482  
Remote Observing Rooms02 9372 4548 - ATCA
 02 9372 4748 - Parkes
 02 9372 4322 - ASKAP
Non-PABX Phone:02 9876 2484
ATCA Observing
Duty Astronomer:02 6790 4077 
Observer:02 6790 4078 
Switch:02 6790 4000 
ATCA Control Room:02 6790 4033   and
 02 6790 4032 
Observer's Area:02 6790 4031 - near PMON rack
 02 6790 4048 - near Mopra corner
 02 6790 4022 - middle of observers area
Lodge:02 6790 4027 
Non-PABX Phone:02 6795 9274
Parkes Control Room02 6861 1755 
CSIRO National Call Centre1300 36 3400 

How to Finish Off

When you have finished your observations,
  • Put a message in the Portal to let everyone know that you have finished.
  • Fill in the Observers' Questionnaire
  • Disconnect from the VNC sessions and any SSH tunnels you have set up (by logging out of venice or orion)
  • If you've had any problems, please submit a Fault Report. For more details, please see the Fault Report web page


Original: Baerbel Koribalski
Modified: Jamie Stevens (8-mar-2023)