Tag Archives: WA

Telescope of tiles

No moving parts – a new kind of radio telescope
The Murchison Widefield Array is a telescope with no moving parts. Credit: David Herne, ICRAR

Far outback in Western Australia, 32 tiles—flat, stationary sensors—each carrying 16 dipole antennas have begun collecting scientific data.

These first tiles will ultimately form part of a much bigger array of 512 tiles, the Murchison Widefield Array (MWA)—Australia’s second Square Kilometre Array (SKA) demonstrator project. Like CSIRO’s Australian SKA Pathfinder (ASKAP), the MWA is being built at the remote, radio-quiet Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory (MRO). Continue reading Telescope of tiles

Managing a data mountain

The world’s largest telescope, the Square Kilometre Array (SKA), is expected to generate more data in a single day than the world does in a year at present. And even its prototype, CSIRO’s ASKAP, is expected to accumulate more information within six hours of being switched on than all previous radio telescopes combined.

Such gargantuan streams of data require serious management, and that will be one of the jobs of the $80 million iVEC Pawsey Centre in Perth, which is due to be completed in 2013.

The planned Pawsey High-Performance Computing Centre for SKA Science in Perth (photo credit: Woodhead/CSIRO)

Continue reading Managing a data mountain

Australia’s SKA demonstrator already booked out

The sky's no limit with ASKAP
THE FIRST ASKAP DISH BEING ERECTED IN FEBRUARY 2010. CREDIT: DAVE DEBOER, CSIRO

It’s not due to begin operating until 2013, but astronomers from around the world are already lining up to use CSIRO’s Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder (ASKAP). In fact, the first five years of ASKAP’s operation are already booked out, with ten major international Survey Science projects looking for pulsars, measuring cosmic magnetic fields, studying millions of galaxies, and more. Continue reading Australia’s SKA demonstrator already booked out

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.

Continue reading Putting Einstein to the ultimate test

Nurturing super astronomers at home

SUPER SCIENCE FELLOW DR JAMES ALLISON AT NARRABRI DURING AN OBSERVING RUN AT THE AUSTRALIA TELESCOPE COMPACT ARRAY. CREDIT: ANANT TANNA.
SUPER SCIENCE FELLOW DR JAMES ALLISON AT NARRABRI DURING AN OBSERVING RUN AT THE AUSTRALIA TELESCOPE COMPACT ARRAY. CREDIT: ANANT TANNA.

Advanced telescopes need advanced astronomers to run them. Australia is matching the millions of dollars it is investing in new telescope technology with funds to help train the rising stars of Australian astronomy.

“We’ve had big investments in infrastructure, and now we need young scientists with the expertise to use them,” says Elaine Sadler, professor of Astrophysics at the University of Sydney and chair of the National Committee for Astronomy.

One new tranche of research funding for early career astronomers comes in the form of three-year Super Science Fellowships from the Commonwealth Government. In 2011, 14 young astronomers became Super Science Fellows, joining the 17 who started work in 2010. All up, astronomy will receive one-third of the Federal Government’s $27 million commitment to the Fellowships program. Continue reading Nurturing super astronomers at home

The destruction of a star

THE ZADKO TELESCOPE MAKING OBSERVATIONS NEAR GINGIN, 70 KILOMETRES NORTH OF PERTH. CREDIT: JOHN GOLDSMITH/CELESTIAL VISIONS.
THE ZADKO TELESCOPE MAKING OBSERVATIONS NEAR GINGIN, 70 KILOMETRES NORTH OF PERTH. CREDIT: JOHN GOLDSMITH/CELESTIAL VISIONS.

You have to be well prepared, quick and lucky to take a picture of an explosion, especially if that explosion occurred 11 billion years ago in a remote part of the Universe. Having the right equipment, plus friends in high places, certainly helps. And that’s exactly what the Zadko Telescope—managed by the University of Western Australia at the Gingin Observatory about 70 kilometres north of Perth—does have.

In December 2008, just after it was installed, the telescope was first on the scene to record for future analysis the afterglow of a momentous event—a huge explosion as a star collapsed into a black hole releasing a massive gamma-ray burst. It’s the kind of happening the one-metre Zadko Telescope, currently the largest optical telescope in Western Australia, was built to observe. And it performed flawlessly, outpacing the world’s most powerful telescopes at the European Southern Observatory in Chile.

Continue reading The destruction of a star

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

Starving cancer and other stories

Prostate cancers are made up of hungry, growing cells. Now we’ve discovered how to cut off their food supply thanks to a study published in Cancer Research and supported by Movember. More below. Also Australian science discoveries you may have missed from the past week. Heart cells growing in a test-tube – Melbourne How birds [...]

Australian farmers bring climate research to the paddock

Leading grain farmers are guiding climate researchers as part of Australia’s Climate Champion initiative.

Australian farmers bring climate research to the paddock
Farmer Simon Wallwork has worked with climate scientists on his farm. Credit: GRDC
They hope the results will help farmers to adapt to Australia’s increasingly challenging and variable climate.

Scientists supported by the Managing Climate Variability program asked the farmers about what they needed to know about climate in their areas—what forecasts and predictions would be most helpful and how they should be presented.
Continue reading Australian farmers bring climate research to the paddock

Seeing fish through rocks

Dr Kate Trinajstic has used synchrotron light and CT scanning to see through rock, in the process discovering how ancient fish developed teeth, jaws and even a womb. Her work is increasing our understanding of how life on Earth evolved.

Seeing fish through rocks
The winner of the 2010 Malcolm McIntosh Prize for Physical Scientist of the Year, Kate Trinajstic. Credit: Ron D’Raine
About 380 million years ago in what is now the Kimberley Ranges in Western Australia, a vast barrier reef formed. In what would have been the inter-reef basins, large numbers of fish were buried relatively intact. Protective limestone balls formed around them and preserved them. When these balls are treated with acetic acid, the main component of vinegar, the surrounding rock dissolves, leaving only fossilised fish bones.

But in the course of studying hundreds of these dissolving balls, Kate began to see what looked like muscle fibres between the bones. She was eventually able to convince her colleagues that irreplaceable soft tissue detail was being lost in the acid treatments.
Continue reading Seeing fish through rocks