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Iconic Australian Telescope Celebrates Indigenous Astronomy 

A radio telescope at the Parkes Observatory is pictured at sunset near the town of Parkes, Australia, July 15, 2019.
A radio telescope at the Parkes Observatory is pictured at sunset near the town of Parkes, Australia, July 15, 2019.

Australia’s most famous radio telescope that played a key role in televising the Apollo 11 moon landing in 1969 has been given a new Aboriginal name. Known as "The Dish," the telescope near Parkes in New South Wales, 380 kilometers west of Sydney, will also be called "Murriyang," meaning "Skyworld" in the local indigenous language.

The Parkes Observatory has three telescopes. All have been given new Aboriginal names in respect of the astronomical knowledge of Australia’s original inhabitants, whose stories of creation, known as the Dreaming, are told by the stars.

The largest telescope, which has discovered hundreds of new galaxies and rapidly spinning neutron stars called pulsars, is also to be known as "Murriyang" or "Skyworld." The others have Aboriginal names meaning "Smart Eye" and "Smart Dish."

Dr. John Reynolds is the director of the Australia Telescope National Facility, which is run by the national science agency, the CSIRO.

“I think the bestowing of traditional names is very significant because not only does it recognize the traditional custodians of the land where the telescopes sit, but it highlights the link between the oldest science, astronomy, and the longest continuous civilization in the world that has been practicing astronomy for generations. The new name for the familiar Parkes dish — the big 64-meter [dish] — is Murriyang, which represents the sky world in the Wiradjuri dreaming,” said Reynolds.

The names were chosen by Wiradjuri elders, who say it is one of their proudest moments.

While it is operated mainly for astronomy research, the Parkes telescope has a long history of being contracted by international space agencies to track and receive data from spacecraft. In 2012, it helped to monitor NASA's Curiosity rover during its descent onto the surface of Mars.

But perhaps its most famous mission was its part in receiving television signals on a momentous day in July 1969 during the Apollo 11 moon landing.

The story was made into a popular movie "The Dish" in 2000, which helped to cement the facility’s legendary status in Australian science.

The telescope weighs 1,000 tons and only receives signals from space, but never sends them. It was officially opened in October 1961.