Fundamental questions about the Universe are set to be answered as a new radio telescope in outback Western Australia comes online, using multiple beam radio receiver technology to view the sky with unprecedented speed and sensitivity.
The Australian SKA Pathfinder (ASKAP), CSIRO’s newest telescope, uses innovative phased array feed receivers, also known as ‘radio cameras’, to capture images of radio-emitting galaxies in an area about the size of the Southern Cross—far more than can be seen with a traditional radio telescope.
The telescope is currently nearing completion at the Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory, 700 kilometres north of Perth. It comprises 36 antennas working together as a single instrument with higher resolution and sensitivity than any existing radio telescope. The antennas are connected by a high-speed optical fibre and linked to a supercomputer in Perth.
“ASKAP is a completely new type of telescope—everything is experimental—and it’s all working remarkably well,” explains ASKAP project scientist Lisa Harvey-Smith. “As part of early science activities, astrophysicists will use ASKAP to map distant galaxies, tracking their evolution over the past 10 billion years.”
Not only is ASKAP a world-leading telescope in its own right, but it will ultimately be incorporated into the future Square Kilometre Array, the world’s largest radio telescope, which is to be built in Australia and Southern Africa. The SKA will be powerful enough to see the first stars forming after the Big Bang.