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The Parkes radio telescope can detect extremely weak signals coming from the most distant parts of the Universe. Shutterstock

For John Sarkissian, operations scientist at the CSIRO Parkes radio telescope, astronomy has been his life’s passion – starting from the age of six.

“When I was six years old, I watched Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walk on the Moon,” he says of the radio telescope made famous in the film The Dish.

“In fact, on the cover of my year nine mathematics textbook was a painting of the Parkes radio telescope. I remember sitting in the class staring at the painting and daydreaming working there one day. And so here I am now, 40 some years later.”

Today, on Trust Me I’m An Expert, editorial intern Antonio Tarquinio speaks to Sarkissian about the research underway at one of Australia’s most famous astronomical research facilities including:

  • the role Parkes is playing right now in the search for extra-terrestrial intelligence

  • how the telescope detects extremely weak signals coming from the most distant parts of the Universe

  • why even a light breeze can imperil the dish unless it’s in the right position

  • how the explosion of phones, wi-fi and radio frequency interference is affecting research in the once-deserted Parkes location.

And Sarkissian’s own take on whether Parkes will help find alien life?

“Well, as of today, the only place we know of the entire Universe that there is definitely life is right here on Earth,” he says.

“And what does that say? It says that we should appreciate our place in the Universe a little more.”


Read more: ‘The size, the grandeur, the peacefulness of being in the dark’: what it’s like to study space at Siding Spring Observatory


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Read more: Trust Me, I’m An Expert: what science says about how to lose weight and whether you really need to


Additional audio

Kindergarten by Unkle Ho, from Elefant Traks.

Extra Dimension by Kri Tik, from Free Music Archive

Images

Shutterstock


Read more: Darkness is disappearing and that’s bad news for astronomy


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