Happy 5th birthday to the Cosmic Pudding!

Just under 5 years ago, the Cosmic Pudding was born in Parkes, New South Wales, during the 50th birthday party of the Parkes radio telescope. Over the last few months I’d been hoping there’d be a chance to take a trip to Parkes to celebrate, and through a fortuitous alignment of circumstances I’m happy to report that we successfully road-tripped to Parkes this weekend!

Along for the road trip to Parkes were myself (and the pudding!), two former CSIRO PhD students Nipanjana and Justin (now postdocs at Berkeley and Jodrell Bank), a UNSW postdoc Nigel and a Swinburne PhD student Shivani. Aside from myself and Justin (who had been at the Parkes 50th), none of the others had even seen the Dish in person before. We drove up late on Friday night, through a surprising amount of wind and rain, arriving at our motel in Parkes around 1am.

Our awesome tour guide was John Sarkissian who very kindly gave up part of his Saturday to show us around the site. One of the highlights for me personally was seeing the multibeam receiver up close – this receiver consists of 13 individual receivers linked together to map the sky quickly, and was the receiver responsible for collecting the Galactic All Sky Survey data I used for my PhD!

We couldn’t go on the Dish itself because it was observing pulsars, but we did go inside the control building to see the old control desk and the various backends, plus upstairs on the outside balcony to see the cable wraps, compressors, master equatorial and more. We also checked out the old 60-ft telescope that is very dear to the heart of Ron Ekers (his thesis telescope!), an RFI tower and the 12-m testbed telescope used for early ASKAP experiments. In addition we stopped by the staff kitchen and saw the spot where the microwave unknowingly generating perytons used to live! After a tasty lunch at the Dish Cafe and good chats with John, we left the Dish behind to make our way back to Sydney.

Before we left however, I made sure to stop at Woolworths Parkes: the true origin site of the Cosmic Pudding back in 2011. I’d wondered about this for a while – what would it look like 5 years on, and would I find more puddings in the same spot?

As it turned out, there was just a lot of garden stuff in that section. I’m not sure if maybe it will change closer to Christmas, but it was definitely strange to be back there and not be surrounded by Christmas-themed goods – including puddings! I don’t know how the pudding felt being back (it keeps its thoughts to itself), but for me it was an interesting experience to return 5 years later. At the Parkes 50th, I was about a year into my PhD and felt extremely junior amongst all the important people attending the symposium. Now, I’m older, somewhat more senior, and the pudding has visited more telescopes than even most observational astronomers as we head into an era of increasing distance of astronomers from the telescopes they use.

Not everyone understands the pudding, even when I explain it to them. Why on earth would anyone buy a pudding, and what does it have to do with astronomy? Well, I can tell you that I didn’t buy it because of astronomy. I bought it because I thought it was hilarious that it had feet but no face and shuffled along merrily playing (what I later found out from Narrabri engineers to be) Benny Hill music… and somewhere during the Parkes 50th it evolved into the Cosmic Pudding. It might seem strange to some people to assign an inanimate object with the mission of visiting telescopes around the world, but the pudding has taken me on some grand adventures in the last 5 years and formed an interesting and unusual way to engage with people about astronomy.

To the next 5 years, and many more!




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