In May 2014, a team led by PhD candidate Emily Petroff from Swinburne University was the first to see ‘fast radio bursts’ (FRBs) live, using the Parkes radio telescope in central New South Wales. The search was triggered by signals found in recycled data. They also discovered that someone was opening the kitchen microwave.
Quantum memory has been extended to six hours in an advance that brings the spirit of the Pony Express to quantum communications, raising the prospect of physical transport of ‘read once’ quantum ‘memory sticks’.
Technology that ‘de-twinkles’ stars is being used to pinpoint manmade space junk and avoid devastating collisions like those dramatised in the movie Gravity.
Australian company Electro Optic Systems, based on Mount Stromlo in Canberra, is using adaptive optics and pulsing lasers to locate detritus too small for conventional radar. Ultimately, the company hopes to use similar lasers to remove the debris from orbit.
Adaptive optics helps the pulsing lasers to cut through the Earth’s atmospheric turbulence, which distorts and scatters light, by using a second orange-coloured laser to illuminate sodium atoms in the upper atmosphere.
A new breed of spacecraft engine is undergoing its first indoor test flights, thanks to a giant ‘wombat’ on the outskirts of Australia’s capital.
The Australian National University has developed a plasma thruster that uses electricity to ionise gas and produce thrust, allowing the engine to run for longer and with much less fuel than a chemical rocket.
This makes it ideal for manoeuvring satellites in orbit, or for extended voyages to places like Mars. However, rocket manufacturers need to be sure it works before trusting it on multimillion-dollar satellites.
A new computer chip, which uses light instead of electronic signals to process information, could lead to high security, energy-efficient internet links more than 1,000 times faster than today’s networks.
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.
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.
Continue reading Prized astronomer continues to contribute
This story continues from Galactic archaeology— digging into the Milky Way’s past
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.
The identity of the molecules has been a mystery for 80 years, but Rob has now joined forces with chemists at the University of Sydney to try to crack the molecular code. Continue reading Is the Red Rectangle a cosmic Rosetta Stone?