John M. Sarkissian's Projects at Parkes

My Projects:

  • On 16 July 2009, NASA released the results of the Apollo 11 SSTV Tape Search. Along with the results, NASA released the initial restoration of 15 key scenes from the best of the Apollo 11 EVA videos we found in the course of the search. On 4 November 2009, NASA released the formal report of the tape search.

  • Since 2004 I have been a member of the Parkes Pulsar Timing Array (PPTA) team under the leadership of Federation Fellow, Dr Richard Manchester. The PPTA is in effect a gravitational wave detector using the Earth as a test mass. By making precision timing observations of an array of pulsars distributed on the sky, we can investigate the stability of terrestrial clocks and improve our understanding of Solar-system dynamics. We also have the exciting possibility of making the first direct detection of gravitational waves.

  • In May 2007, I was invited to become a member of an Advisory Group that will help to formulate Australia's activities for the International Year of Astronomy (IYA) in 2009. This Advisory Group is a working group of the National Committee of Astronomy, under the auspices of the Australian Academy of Science.
  • On 21 May 2006, I produced a report titled, "The Search for the Apollo 11 SSTV Tapes". The report was a product of many years of work researching the role of the Parkes Telescope in the Apollo 11 mission. Up until the report's writing, I had been searching for the missing telemetry tapes since early 1999, but to no avail. The impending closure of the Data Evaluation Lab (DEL) at GSFC was the catalyst for writing the report. The DEL is the only laboratory to still have the capability to play back the tapes whenever they are found. Almost immediately, the report caused quite a stir around the globe with many news stories reporting the loss of the tapes. Eventually, by mid-August 2006, the interest in the fate of the tapes was so great that NASA finally acted by initiaing a formal search for the tapes, with GSFC Deputy Director, Dolly Perkins, heading up the formal search efforts. The first decision by her team was to cancel the DEL's closure.

    For years, the small, and informal, Apollo 11 Tape Search Team had been unsuccessfully searching for the tapes. A greater, formal effort, with the full resources of NASA brought to bear on this enterprise, was required to find them. This small team is composed of myself and four other colleagues in Australia and the United States. They include; John Sarkissian and Colin Mackellar from Australia and Bill Wood, Stan Lebar and Richard Nafzger from the USA. We are coinfident that the tapes will eventually be found.

  • On 17 March 2006, I performed observations with the CSIRO’s Parkes Radio Telescope that led to the discovery of the first ever radio pulsations from a magnetar – one of the most highly magnetised stars known in the Universe. Since they were first identified in the early 1990’s, magnetars have been an enigmatic and little understood class of neutron star and the significance of this discovery is that it links them to the ordinary radio pulsars for the first time. Studying the radio emission gives us a window into the magnetospheres and coronae of magnetars, enabling us to learn more about pulsars and neutron stars in general.
  • On 4 July 2005, the NASA mission "Deep Impact" encountered Comet 9P/Tempel-1, with the high-velocity collision of it's impactor with the comet. I was a member of a small team within the ATNF to observe the results of the impact with radio telescopes in Australia. I observed the impact with the Parkes radio telescope over a three day period from 4-6 July 2005. Weak 18-cm OH emission was detected with the Parkes 64-m telescope, in data averaged over July 4–6. These results were combined with other similar observations performed around the globe with Earth-based telescopes in an unprecedented, coordinated observational campaign. The aim was to maximum and enhance the scientific impact of the mission in order to better understand the composition and physical characteristics of comets in general and also to better understand the conditions in the Solar System's formation.
  • On 14 January 2005, the ESA Huygens probe descended through the atmosphere of Titan, Saturn's largest Moon. The Parkes Observatory was tracking the probe and receiving it's signal in real-time. I was present in the control room during this amazing encounter. My role was to liaise with and help co-ordinate the media arrangements for the encounter.

  • In 2003, I was a member of a team that discovered the first ever Double Pulsar system, PSR J0737-3039. Following it's initial detection by Marta Burgay, I performed the confirmation observation that subsequently revealed the extraordinary nature of this remarkable binary system. At first, only the A pulsar was detected, but after some fortuitous processing of the data by my colleagues, the second B pulsar was discovered in the data some three months after the initial confirmation observation. This Double Pulsar system has since yielded many interesting results and has allowed astronomers to probe the physics of pulsars in more detail than has been possible before. In 2004, the Double Pulsar was recognised by the prestigious journal SCIENCE as one of the top 10 science discoveries of 2004.

  • From September 2003 to February 2004, I was a member of the Parkes Mars Tracking Team in support of NASA's Mars Exploration missions. I performed 1/2 of all the daily tracking duties and I prepared the Operations and Tracking Protocols for the Mars tracking support. On 31 October 2003, the United States Ambassador to Australia, His Excellency J. Thomas Shieffer, visited the Observatory to officially launch the tracking operations.

  • In 2003 I co-authored a paper on Long Period Variable stars, with my colleague, Dr Norayr Melikian of Armenia's Byurakan Astrophysical Observatory. Long Period Variables (LPVs) are an important phase in the evolution of red giant and supergiant stars. They represent one of the best distance indicators to galaxies, and are also useful in the study of Galactic structure.

  • Between 2000 and 2003, I was a member of a team involved in the timing of a bright southern millisecond pulsar, PSR J0437-4715. The daily observations of this binary pulsar allowed independent tests of General Relativity to be performed. In July 2001, the team published a paper in the prestigeous journal NATURE.

  • I am a member of a team involved in the discovery and timing of pulsars in globular star clusters.

  • In 2001, my colleagues and I, discovered a new radio pulsar associated with the X-ray source G292.0+1.8 - an approx. 1700 yr old oxygen-rich composite supernova remnant. We have since searched other supernova remnants for further examples of these pulsars.

  • From 1998 to 2000, I was a member of a team involved in the Timing of Young Pulsars. Young pulsars are of interest in several different ways: they are sometimes associated with supernova remnants, they sometimes have high-energy (optical, x-ray, gamma-ray) pulsed emission, and they usually have significant period variations and often suffer "glitches". In 1998, I regularly observed, and monitored, the periods of approximately 40 mostly young pulsars, with the aim of providing a database for high-energy observations of pulsars, and to investigate variations in their periods.

  • Since 1998, I've been developing software to characterise Radio Frequency Interference (RFI) at all the ATNF observatory sites. These packages interactively characterise all RFI emissions from both terrestrial and satellite based transmitters. An ATNF RFI web site has been produced to disseminate some of the data already obtained. In addition, I assisted in the site selection of the proposed new radio telescope, the Square Kilometre Array (SKA).

  • I am a Board Member of the SETI Australia Centre. The centre is concerned with research, education and public outreach connected with and related to the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence.

  • Between 1998 and 2000, I provided research material for, and was a technical advisor on, the feature film "THE DISH". I was also the telescope operator for the film and I extensively liaised between the Working Dog production team and the Observatory staff. It's been a great privilege for me to be associated with this film. Click here to see my report "On Eagle's Wings", about the Parkes Observatory's support of the Apollo 11 mission. This report was published in the Publications of the Astronomical Society of Australia journal, PASA Volume 18, Number 3. This report has been accepted by NASA as part of the official Apollo 11 history.

    NASA web sites:
    Apollo 11 Lunar Surface Journal - One Small Step (Go to time 109:22:34 on the page)
    Apollo 11 Lunar Surface Journal - Apollo 11 Scan Converter Spots

  • In 2000, I produced the new Parkes Observatory Web Pages.

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The material on this page does not necessarily reflect the views of the ATNF or CSIRO