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.
The Gemini South telescope in Chile was fitted recently with an adaptive optics imager built by ANU that takes pictures of the sky corrected for the blurring caused by Earth’s turbulent atmosphere. The optics work by continually monitoring atmospheric distortion of three reference stars and five artificial laser guide stars. The resulting images should rival those of the Hubble Space Telescope.
The next generation of the system, to be deployed at the Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT), promises to be even more effective. RSAA is managing Australia’s participation in the $650 million international GMT project. “This will allow the next generation of Australian astronomers to remain at the forefront of research,” says Harvey Butcher, who directs RSAA.
“New insights often result from the application of technologies that allow new kinds of observations to be made,” Harvey adds. “Therefore, we’re investing heavily in the capacity to develop innovative instrumentation, both for the GMT and for our own and other facilities.”