SkyMapper’s 268-megapixel camera

On a mountaintop in northern New South Wales sits a new telescope equipped with Australia’s largest digital camera. The Australian National University’s (ANU) SkyMapper facility has been established at Siding Spring Observatory to conduct the most comprehensive optical survey yet of the southern sky.

Fully automated, the telescope is measuring the shape, brightness and spectral type of over a billion stars and galaxies, down to one million times fainter than the eye can see.

SKYMAPPER AT SIDING SPRING, NORTHERN NEW SOUTH WALES. CREDIT: AUSTRALIAN NATIONAL UNIVERSITY.

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Australian company brings the Universe within range

THIS SATELLITE LASER RANGING STATION MANAGED BY GEOSCIENCE AUSTRALIA AT MOUNT STROMLO OBSERVATORY NEAR CANBERRA WAS BUILT AND IS OPERATED BY EOS. CREDIT: CRAIG ELLIS.
THIS SATELLITE LASER RANGING STATION MANAGED BY GEOSCIENCE AUSTRALIA AT MOUNT STROMLO OBSERVATORY NEAR CANBERRA WAS BUILT AND IS OPERATED BY EOS. CREDIT: CRAIG ELLIS.

An Australian company, Electro-Optic Systems (EOS), is one of the biggest developers of large, high-precision, optical research telescopes in the world. In fact, EOS has designed, built and installed the SkyMapper telescope and its enclosure at Siding Spring Observatory in New South Wales.

The headquarters of EOS is at the Mt Stromlo Observatory near Canberra, but its reach is international. Equipment the company has installed include the University of Tokyo’s two-metre telescope at Mount Haleakala, Hawai’i, a two-metre telescope in the Himalayas for the Indian Institute of Astrophysics, and the 2.4 ­metre Advanced Planet Finder (APF) at the University of California’s Lick Observatory. Continue reading Australian company brings the Universe within range

Mount Stromlo Observatory rising from the ashes

THE ENCLOSURE OF THE GIANT 8.1-METRE GEMINI SOUTH TELESCOPE AT CERRO PACHÓN IN THE ANDES MOUNTAINS. CHILE. CREDIT: GEMINI OBSERVATORY.
THE ENCLOSURE OF THE GIANT 8.1-METRE GEMINI SOUTH TELESCOPE AT CERRO PACHÓN IN THE ANDES MOUNTAINS. CHILE. CREDIT: GEMINI OBSERVATORY.

The Mount Stromlo Observatory of the Australian National University (ANU) is rising from the ashes of Canberra’s 2003 bushfires, after an investment of millions of dollars into cutting-edge technologies and facilities.

The Mount Stromlo site—home to the ANU’s Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics (RSAA)—no longer acts as a research observatory, but rather as a high-tech hub developing astronomical instruments for the world’s most advanced telescopes. Staff at the RSAA’s Advanced Instrumentation and Technology Centre have already built multi­million dollar instruments, such as the Near-Infrared Integral-Field Spectrograph (NIFS) for the Gemini North Telescope which provides images in the infrared equivalent to the Hubble Space Telescope in the optical range. Continue reading Mount Stromlo Observatory rising from the ashes

From mapping a continent to surveying the Universe

SIDING SPRING MOUNTAIN’ IS HOME TO OVER A DOZEN AUSTRALIAN AND INTERNATIONAL TELESCOPES. CREDIT: FRED KAMPHUES.
SIDING SPRING MOUNTAIN’ IS HOME TO OVER A DOZEN AUSTRALIAN AND INTERNATIONAL TELESCOPES. CREDIT: FRED KAMPHUES.

Australia’s first observatory was built on the shores of Sydney Harbour by Lieutenant William Dawes of the First Fleet, on the point where the southern pylon of the Sydney Harbour Bridge now stands. Optical astronomy was essential for maritime navigation, and for providing precise location measurements for surveying the new continent.

The country’s first major observatory was established in 1821 at Parramatta by Thomas Brisbane, Governor of New South Wales and, later, President of the Royal Society. The observatory was used to discover and record the galaxy NGC 5128—a now much-studied galaxy that radio astronomers know as Centaurus A, within which sits a super-massive black hole (see Recording the impact of a super-massive black hole). Continue reading From mapping a continent to surveying the Universe

Spinning galaxies reveal missing matter

PHOTO: DARK MATTER DOMINATES GALAXIES AND GROUPS OF GALAXIES, YET ITS IDENTITY REMAINS UNKNOWN. CREDIT: DAVID MALIN, AUSTRALIAN ASTRONOMICAL OBSERVATORY.
PHOTO: DARK MATTER DOMINATES GALAXIES AND GROUPS OF GALAXIES, YET ITS IDENTITY REMAINS UNKNOWN. CREDIT: DAVID MALIN, AUSTRALIAN ASTRONOMICAL OBSERVATORY.

Australian astronomers have long been contributing to our understanding of a strange cosmological phenomenon—the Universe’s missing matter.

In the early 1970s, Ken Freeman of the Australian National University (ANU) determined that spiral galaxies must contain more matter than we can see. He postulated that dark matter—an invisible material first proposed 40 years earlier—must make up at least half the mass of these galaxies. Now, patches of dark matter are thought to be scattered across the Universe, playing a major role in holding galaxies and groups of galaxies together. Continue reading Spinning galaxies reveal missing matter

Australian scientists elected to Royal Society

Four of Australia’s most accomplished scientists have been elected to the oldest scientific academy in continuous existence, the Royal Society of London.

PROF IAN FRAZER LAUNCHES THE CERVICAL CANCER VACCINE GARDASIL. CREDIT: UNIVERSITY OF QUEENSLAND

Prof Ian Frazer, Prof Alan Cowman, Prof Mark Randolph and Dr Patrick Tam join 40 other scientists to be elected to the Royal Society in 2011, which celebrated its 350th anniversary last year.

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Fighting back against malaria

Some of the biochemical tricks the malaria parasite uses to become resistant have been unravelled thanks to a series of discoveries by Dr Rowena Martin and her colleagues at the Australian National University.

She is using those insights to give a new lease of life to chloroquine, the wonder drug against malaria first discovered in the 1950s.

For more than half a century chloroquine saved hundreds of millions of lives, but now chloroquine-resistant malaria strains have become common in developing countries.

Rowena is working to understand what happened. The single-celled malaria parasite enters our bodies when we are bitten by an infected mosquito.

It eventually invades and plunders our red blood cells, consuming the haemoglobin contained within.

The digestion of haemoglobin, which takes place in the parasite’s stomach compartment, releases the iron-containing, nonprotein component, haem.

Free haem is toxic to the parasite, which responds by converting it to a harmless crystal. Chloroquine works by blocking the formation of these crystals.

Ten years ago researchers discovered that just a few small changes in a protein PfCRT were enough to give the parasite resistance to chloroquine. But they did not know what the changes did.

Rowena developed a system to study PfCRT in frog eggs—allowing her to examine it in isolation and in detail.

“We found that it moves chloroquine out of the parasite’s stomach compartment so that the drug can’t accumulate at its site of action.” For her achievements to date, in 2010 Rowena won a $20,000 L’Oréal Australia For Women in Science Fellowship.

Photo: Rowena Martin, the Australian National University, Canberra/The University of Melbourne. Credit: L’oréal Australia/SDP media.

Research School of Biology, The Australian National University, Rowena Martin, Tel: +61 2 6125 8589, Rowena.Martin@anu.edu.au, www.scienceinpublic.com.au/loreal

Fighting back against malaria

Rowena Martin

The Australian National University, Canberra/The University of Melbourne

Rowena Martin, The Australian National University, Canberra/The University of Melbourne (credit: L’Oréal Australia/sdpmedia.com.au)
Rowena Martin, The Australian National University, Canberra/The University of Melbourne (credit: L’Oréal Australia/sdpmedia.com.au)

In the 1950s it seemed as if medical science was winning the fight against malaria with the help of the ‘wonder drug’ chloroquine. Over the past half century the drug has saved hundreds of millions of lives.

But now the parasite that causes malaria has fought back. Chloroquine-resistant malaria has become common in developing countries. Rowena Martin is working to understand what happened, and to develop new ways of treating malaria. Continue reading Fighting back against malaria