The energy of ultra-high energy (UHE) cosmic rays that strike the Earth’s atmosphere make the energy produced from particle collisions by the Large Hadron Collider look puny. A team based in South Australia is now developing the techniques and technology to find out where such energetic particles could possibly originate. They ultimately hope to use the proposed SKA telescope to conduct their search.
“We think some cosmic rays are produced in the remnants of supernovae—exploding stars—but where the most energetic ones come from, that’s a mystery,” says Justin Bray, a PhD student hunting for their source as part of the LUNASKA (Lunar Ultra-high-energy Neutrino Astrophysics using SKA) project led by Ray Protheroe at the University of Adelaide and Ron Ekers at CSIRO. Continue reading Tracing cosmic rays from radio pulses→
Enormous collapsing clouds of cosmic gas and dust may yield clues on how massive stars form, which is an enduring mystery of astronomy.
One such cloud, called BYF73, has been studied by a research team using CSIRO’s Mopra radio telescope. Peter Barnes, an Australian researcher working at the University of Florida in the US, leads the team. The massive hydrogen cloud is collapsing in on itself and will probably form a huge cluster of young stars. Continue reading Mega star nursery gives birth to new knowledge→
At the centre of a nearby galaxy lurks an object of huge interest, a super-massive black hole. CSIRO scientists have used their radio telescopes to take a picture of the galaxy surrounding it, a task some thought could not be done, because of the sheer size and radio brightness of the scene. The image of Centaurus A took about 1,200 hours of observations and a further 10,000 hours of computer processing to put together, but the work is already beginning to bear fruit.
“We didn’t generate this image just to make a pretty picture,” says lead scientist Ilana Feain of CSIRO Astronomy and Space Science. “We want to understand in detail how the energy from super-massive black holes influences the formation and evolution of their host galaxies.” Continue reading Recording the impact of a super-massive black hole→
Scientists are using the unique advantages of Australia’s Red Centre to conduct high-altitude balloon flights for astronomical research. The clear air and low population of central Australia make it the ideal location for balloon-based research.
Daniel Tran, a year ten student at PAL College in Cabramatta, a suburb in southwestern Sydney, has photographed the Glowing Eye Nebula, a ghostly cloud of gas that has lasted at least 3,000 years and surrounds a dying star some 7,000 light years from Earth.
Daniel took the photograph using one of the world’s biggest telescopes—the giant 8.1metre Gemini South telescope in Chile, in which Australia has a 6.2 per cent share. His precious hour’s worth of observing time on the telescope was the 2009 prize for winning the Australian Gemini School Astronomy Contest, which aims to inspire the next generation of Australian astronomers by involving students in the process of real astronomy at a major professional facility. Continue reading A student’s out-of-this-world experience→
“Twice the resolution and all the photons,” is Prof Chris Tinney’s new catchphrase. It refers to new equipment being commissioned on the Anglo-Australian Telescope to hunt for planets beyond our Solar System (exoplanets). Chris, from the University of New South Wales, is a leader of the Anglo-Australian Planet Search (AAPS), which has found 32 exoplanets, almost 10% of the worldwide total, since 1998.
A Doppler shift in a star’s light spectrum often indicates the presence of planets. Unlike previous equipment, which frequently missed some of that light, the new system uses a cluster of optical fibres to gather all the starlight, boosting efficiency and doubling the Doppler precision. Continue reading Doubling up pays dividends in exoplanet hunt→
But already, another Australian-led innovation in astronomical instrumentation is providing researchers with the critical information they need to understand the motions of stars within different parts of our galaxy, such as its main body, the bulging core, and the extended halo that surrounds it. Researchers are also searching for evidence of galactic cannibalism—swarms of stars that could be remnants of dwarf galaxies consumed by the Milky Way.
The innovation, called the 6dF instrument, is being used by a multinational consortium, the RAdial Velocity Experiment (RAVE), to measure the radial velocities of more than half a million stars. It is mounted on the Australian National University’s UK Schmidt Telescope at Siding Spring in New South Wales. Radial velocity is movement toward or away from the observer along the light of sight, as distinct from motion across the line of sight. The survey, which began in 2003, will be completed in 2011. Continue reading Profiling and fingerprinting the stars→
Ken Freeman is hunting for fossils. But he’s not looking for old bones—he’s exploring the very origin and history of our Milky Way galaxy.
Conventional theory says that our galaxy grew big by engulfing smaller ones. If this is correct, stars from the original galaxies should be still identifiable within the main mass of stars via several tell-tale signs, from unusual velocities to spectral types. These stellar fossils would point to the galaxy’s birth and growth. Continue reading Galactic archaeology— digging into the Milky Way’s past→
Cracking the puzzle of unusual molecules in deep space that absorb some wavelengths of starlight is like unlocking the secrets of the Rosetta Stone, according to Rob Sharp of the Australian National University’s Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics. “It’s the longest-standing problem in astronomical spectroscopy,” he says.
Imagine an extremely large optical telescope fitted with detectors that can selectively collect light from a particular section of the telescope’s focal plane. Using revolutionary robotic technology called Starbugs, the detector will reconfigure itself in real time to collect from any particular area of the image, and will feed the data into any analytical instrument.
That’s exactly what Matthew Colless and his team at the Australian Astronomical Observatory have in mind with the development of MANIFEST (the many-instrument fibre system)—which make use of the special photonic technologies developed by Joss Bland-Hawthorn and his team at the University of Sydney. Continue reading Sifting sky data→