Tag Archives: telescopes

Birth of our hot Universe

An Australian physicist is unravelling the mystery of how the hot, brilliant stars we see today emerged from our Universe’s “dark age”.

Stuart Wyithe’s models of an early universe will be explored by the next generation of telescope. Credit: Prime Minister's Science Prizes/Bearcage
Stuart Wyithe’s models of an early universe will be explored by the next generation of telescope. Credit: Prime Minister’s Science Prizes/Bearcage

Theoretical physicist Prof Stuart Wyithe is one of the world’s leading thinkers on the Universe as it was 13 billion years ago, when there were no stars or galaxies, just cold gas.

In the next few years astronomers will learn much more as powerful new telescopes come online.

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Prized astronomer continues to contribute

He received the first ever Malcolm McIntosh Prize for Physical Scientist of the Year in 2000, then the Shaw Prize in Astronomy in 2006, the Gruber Cosmology Prize in 2007 and the Nobel Prize for Physics in 2011—it’s been a satisfying progression for Brian Schmidt, professor of astronomy at the Australian National University, and for Australian science. Schmidt led one of two research teams that determined that the expansion of the Universe is accelerating.

Brian Schmidt, the Malcolm McIntosh Physical Scientist of the Year 2011. Credit: ANU
Brian Schmidt, the Malcolm McIntosh Physical Scientist of the Year 2000 and 2011 Physics Nobel Laureate. Credit: ANU

But winning awards does not mean he’s resting on his laurels. Apart from countless invitations to speak, Brian has his hands full with commissioning SkyMapper, a new optical telescope equipped with Australia’s largest digital camera at 268 megapixels. And he’s also involved in two significant new facilities pioneering technology to be used in the Square Kilometre Array (SKA), the world’s largest radio telescope: the Murchison Widefield Array and the Australian SKA Pathfinder. And in his spare time, he’s working on one of the next generation of optical telescopes, the Giant Magellan Telescope.
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Galactic shutterbug

A new instrument at the Australian Astronomical Observatory (AAO) can sample the light coming from hundreds of galaxies per night—which can tell us new things about the universe.

Astronomer Sam Richards sitting in the prime focus cage at the Anglo-Australian Telescope, where the SAMI instrument usually sits. Credit: Jon Lawrence
Astronomer Sam Richards sitting in the prime focus cage at the Anglo-Australian Telescope, where the SAMI instrument usually sits. Credit: Jon Lawrence

Sydney-AAO Multi-object Integral field spectrograph (SAMI) can look at up to 100 galaxies in a night, because it can look at 60 different regions in each of 13 different galaxies, all at once.

But most observatories around the world can only do one galaxy at a time.
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Massive galaxy survey confirms accelerating Universe

The Universe is definitely getting bigger, faster—and astronomers using the Anglo-Australian Telescope in NSW have confirmed it.

The WiggleZ survey looked at over 200,000 visible galaxies (middle), but also gave insights into dark matter (the green grid that deforms the gravity field) and dark energy (the purple grid). Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
The WiggleZ survey looked at over 200,000 visible galaxies (centre), but also gave insights into dark matter (the green grid that deforms the gravity field) and dark energy (the purple grid). Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltec

The results are now in for WiggleZ, a survey of the night sky, spanning 200,000 galaxies and billions of years of cosmic history.

“This puts a nail in it. Clearly the universe is accelerating, and clearly there is something like dark energy,” says Prof Matthew Colless, director of the Australian Astronomical Observatory and a member of the WiggleZ team.
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Putting Einstein to the ultimate test

CSIRO’s Parkes telescope records pulsar signals to try to detect gravitational waves. Credit: David McClenaghan / CSIRO

Einstein’s general theory of relativity predicts them, and they could be scattered throughout the Universe. But so far, gravitational waves— ‘ripples’ in the fabric of space and time—have never been detected. Several Australian teams of astronomers are trying to catch the first signs of one.

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Stellar immigration

DUNCAN FORBES IS IDENTIFYING ALIEN STARS. CREDIT: PAUL JONES.

If the Milky Way did grow by swallowing up smaller galaxies, then another team suspects it knows where in the Milky Way some of those alien stars are hiding.

Duncan Forbes of Swinburne University of Technology and his Canadian colleague Terry Bridges are using Hubble Space Telescope data to identify clusters of alien stars, using the fact that their age and chemical composition differs from their neighbours.

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Galaxies point the way to dark energy

WiggleZ will hunt for dark energy in the faint patterns of 293,000 distant galaxies. Credit: NASA / ESA / HUDF09 Team

A project to produce more than double the number of galaxy distance measurements than all other previous surveys, could lead to an explanation of one of nature’s biggest mysteries—whether dark energy, an invisible force that opposes gravity, has remained constant or changed since the beginning of time.

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Fresh Science 2010

Each year we identify early-career scientists with a discovery and bring them to Melbourne for a communication boot camp. Here are some of their stories.

More at www.freshscience.org.au

Print your own lasers, lights and TV screens

Print your own lasers, lights and TV screens
Jacek Jasieniak sprinkling quantum dots. Credit: Jacek Jasieniak

Imagine printing your own room lighting, lasers, or solar cells from inks you buy at the local newsagent. Jacek Jasieniak and colleagues at CSIRO, the University of Melbourne and the University of Padua in Italy, have developed liquid inks based on quantum dots that can be used to print such devices and in the first demonstration of their technology have produced tiny lasers. Quantum dots are made of semiconductor material grown as nanometre-sized crystals, around a millionth of a millimetre in diameter. The laser colour they produce can be selectively tuned by varying their size.

Cling wrap captures CO2
Colin Scholes operates a test rig for his carbon capture membrane. Credit: CO2 CRC

Cling wrap captures CO2

High tech cling wraps that ‘sieve out’ carbon dioxide from waste gases can help save the world, says Melbourne University chemical engineer, Colin Scholes who developed the technology. The membranes can be fitted to existing chimneys where they capture CO2 for removal and storage. Not only are the new membranes efficient, they are also relatively cheap to produce. They are already being tested on brown coal power stations in Victoria’s La Trobe Valley, Colin says. “We are hoping these membranes will cut emissions from power stations by up to 90 per cent.”

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No moving parts – a new kind of radio telescope

Murchison Widefield Array
The Murchison Widefield Array is one of the first telescopes with no moving parts. Credit: David Herne, ICRAR

Far outback in Western Australia, at the Murchison Radio Astronomy Observatory located on Boolardy Station, 315 km north-east of Geraldton, 32 tiles each carrying 16 dipole antennas have begun to collect scientific data on the Sun. At the same time they are providing engineering information to be used to extend the facility to a much bigger array of 512 tiles – the Murchison Widefield Array (MWA).

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L’Oréal Fellow looking for dark energy

Tamara Davis is looking for dark energy. Credit: timothyburgess.net
Tamara Davis is looking for dark energy. Credit: timothyburgess.net

In 1998 astronomers made an astonishing discovery—the expansion of the Universe is accelerating. The discovery required a complete rethink of the standard model used to explain how the Universe works.

“Now we know that stars, planets, galaxies and all that we can see make up just four per cent of the Universe,” says Dr Tamara Davis, a University of Queensland astrophysicist.

“About 23 per cent is dark matter. The balance is thought to be dark energy, which we know very little about.”

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