Wide open skies for Australian astronomy

CSIRO’s Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder (ASKAP) telescope is already booked out for much of its first five years of data gathering, even before it formally begins early operations in 2013.

One of CSIRO’s ASKAP antennas at the MRO. Credit: Barry Turner, CSIRO

More than 400 astronomers from over a dozen nations have already signed up to look for pulsars, measure cosmic magnetic fields, and study millions of galaxies.

ASKAP was built at the specifically radio-quiet Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory (MRO) in Western Australia as a technology demonstrator for the $2 billion Square Kilometre Array radio telescope.

Not only that, the newly completed 36-dish ASKAP is a fully functioning instrument in its own right featuring new “radio camera” technology that gives a huge 30° field of view.

“Instead of concentrating on one small patch of space, we can cover the whole sky in a fairly short space of time with great sensitivity,” says CSIRO’s ASKAP project director Antony Schinckel.

“We can then zoom in and do research on the interesting objects that are found in the initial survey, using some of CSIRO’s other instruments such as the Australia Telescope Compact Array at Narrabri, the ‘The Dish’ at Parkes, or a range of other facilities around the world.”

Antony also says some of the future capacity of ASKAP is being kept free so time can be allocated for other scientific proposals and to explore unexpected discoveries.

Over the coming years, existing ASKAP infrastructure will be built up to create an array of around 100 dishes, creating part of the first phase of the SKA, a giant radio-telescope project being constructed in both southern Africa and Australia-New Zealand.

Photo: One of CSIRO’s ASKAP antennas at the MRO.
Credit: Barry Turner, CSIRO

CSIRO Astronomy and Space Science, Antony Schinckel, Antony.Schinckel@csiro.au, www.atnf.csiro.au/projects/askap