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

PlayStation graphics chips drive astronomy supercomputer

MATTHEW BAILES IN THE SWINBURNE VIRTUAL REALITY THEATRE IN FRONT OF AN IMAGE OF THE DOUBLE PULSAR DISCOVERED WITH CSIRO’S PARKES RADIO TELESCOPE. CREDIT: SWINBURNE UNIVERSITY OF TECHNOLOGY.
MATTHEW BAILES IN THE SWINBURNE VIRTUAL REALITY THEATRE IN FRONT OF AN IMAGE OF THE DOUBLE PULSAR DISCOVERED WITH CSIRO’S PARKES RADIO TELESCOPE. CREDIT: SWINBURNE UNIVERSITY OF TECHNOLOGY.

The technology used in your PC or PlayStation is also helping drive a revolution in radio astronomy—the replacement of custom-built hardware with flexible software and data solutions.

“Hardware solutions for radio astronomy have been evolving, but computer power has been evolving much faster,” says Matthew Bailes, from the Swinburne Centre for Astrophysics and Supercomputing. The Centre has developed software systems that are now used in Australia and overseas. Continue reading PlayStation graphics chips drive astronomy supercomputer

Supercomputers bring theory to life

A DEPICTION OF THE DISTRIBUTION OF MATTER IN AN OBJECT NEARLY TEN MILLION LIGHT YEARS ACROSS AND A THOUSAND TIMES THE MASS OF THE MILKY WAY. THOUSANDS OF THESE EXIST IN THE OBSERVABLE UNIVERSE. CREDIT: GREG POOLE, SWINBURNE UNIVERSITY OF TECHNOLOGY.
A DEPICTION OF THE DISTRIBUTION OF MATTER IN AN OBJECT NEARLY TEN MILLION LIGHT YEARS ACROSS AND A THOUSAND TIMES THE MASS OF THE MILKY WAY. THOUSANDS OF THESE EXIST IN THE OBSERVABLE UNIVERSE. CREDIT: GREG POOLE, SWINBURNE UNIVERSITY OF TECHNOLOGY.

Over aeons of time cosmic gas comes together, stars begin to form, supernovae explode, galaxies collide. And computational astronomers can watch it all unfold inside a supercomputer. That’s the kind of work post-doctoral fellows Rob Crain and Greg Poole are doing at the Swinburne Centre for Astrophysics and Supercomputing. Continue reading Supercomputers bring theory to life

Mega star nursery gives birth to new knowledge

THE MASSIVE DENSE CLOUD OF HYDROGEN (SHOWN BY THE RED CONTOURS), CALLED BYF73, APPEARS TO BE COLLAPSING IN ON ITSELF DUE TO GRAVITY, FORMING HUGE PROTOSTARS (SEEN AS RED)
THE MASSIVE DENSE CLOUD OF HYDROGEN (SHOWN BY THE RED CONTOURS), CALLED BYF73, APPEARS TO BE COLLAPSING IN ON ITSELF DUE TO GRAVITY, FORMING HUGE PROTOSTARS (SEEN AS RED)

Enormous collapsing clouds of cosmic gas and dust may yield clues on how massive stars form, which is an enduring mystery of astronomy.

One such cloud, called BYF73, has been studied by a research team using CSIRO’s Mopra radio telescope. Peter Barnes, an Australian researcher working at the University of Florida in the US, leads the team. The massive hydrogen cloud is collapsing in on itself and will probably form a huge cluster of young stars. Continue reading Mega star nursery gives birth to new knowledge

Recording the impact of a super-massive black hole

PARTICLES EMITTING RADIO WAVES STREAM MILLIONS OF LIGHT-YEARS INTO SPACE FROM THE HEART OF THE GALAXY CENTAURUS A. CREDIT: ILANA FEAIN, TIM CORNWELL & RON EKERS (CSIRO). ATCA NORTHERN MIDDLE LOBE POINTING COURTESY R. MORGANTI (ASTRON), PARKES DATA COURTESY N. JUNKES (MPIFR).
PARTICLES EMITTING RADIO WAVES STREAM MILLIONS OF LIGHT-YEARS INTO SPACE FROM THE HEART OF THE GALAXY CENTAURUS A. CREDIT: ILANA FEAIN, TIM CORNWELL & RON EKERS (CSIRO). ATCA NORTHERN MIDDLE LOBE POINTING COURTESY R. MORGANTI (ASTRON), PARKES DATA COURTESY N. JUNKES (MPIFR).

At the centre of a nearby galaxy lurks an object of huge interest, a super-massive black hole. CSIRO scientists have used their radio telescopes to take a picture of the galaxy surrounding it, a task some thought could not be done, because of the sheer size and radio brightness of the scene. The image of Centaurus A took about 1,200 hours of observations and a further 10,000 hours of computer processing to put together, but the work is already beginning to bear fruit.

“We didn’t generate this image just to make a pretty picture,” says lead scientist Ilana Feain of CSIRO Astronomy and Space Science. “We want to understand in detail how the energy from super-massive black holes influences the formation and evolution of their host galaxies.” Continue reading Recording the impact of a super-massive black hole

Alice Springs—gateway to the stars

A BALLOON LAUNCH AT ALICE SPRINGS. CREDIT: R. SOOD.
A BALLOON LAUNCH AT ALICE SPRINGS. CREDIT: R. SOOD.

Scientists are using the unique advantages of Australia’s Red Centre to conduct high-altitude balloon flights for astronomical research. The clear air and low population of central Australia make it the ideal location for balloon-based research.

For most types of astronomy, observatories are typically built high on the tops of mountains, far out in space or high in the sky, dangling from 150-metre-tall helium balloons. Continue reading Alice Springs—gateway to the stars

Japanese spacecraft calls Australia home

AN ARTIST’S IMPRESSION OF THE HAYABUSA SPACECRAFT APPROACHING THE ASTEROID ITOKAWA. CREDIT: A. IKESHITA/MEF/ISAS.
AN ARTIST’S IMPRESSION OF THE HAYABUSA SPACECRAFT APPROACHING THE ASTEROID ITOKAWA. CREDIT: A. IKESHITA/MEF/ISAS.

On 13 June 2010, a Japanese spacecraft bearing pieces of another world parachuted down to Australian soil after a seven-year-long journey through deep space.

During its journey, the spacecraft, called Hayabusa, encountered the 530-metre-long asteroid called Itokawa in November 2005, and briefly landed on it. The Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) designed Hayabusa to collect samples of the asteroid’s surface. Hayabusa then landed at the Department of Defence’s remote Woomera Prohibited Area in the South Australian desert. Fifty years ago, Woomera was one of the most active rocket launch sites in the world. It is still the largest land-based test range on the planet. Continue reading Japanese spacecraft calls Australia home

A student’s out-of-this­-world experience

DANIEL TRAN RECEIVING A FRAMED PRINT OF HIS OBJECT OF FASCINATION, THE GLOWING EYE NEBULA.CREDIT: DAVID MARSHALL.
DANIEL TRAN RECEIVING A FRAMED PRINT OF HIS OBJECT OF FASCINATION, THE GLOWING EYE NEBULA.CREDIT: DAVID MARSHALL.

Daniel Tran, a year ten student at PAL College in Cabramatta, a suburb in southwestern Sydney, has photographed the Glowing Eye Nebula, a ghostly cloud of gas that has lasted at least 3,000 years and surrounds a dying star some 7,000 light years from Earth.

Daniel took the photograph using one of the world’s biggest telescopes—the giant 8.1­metre Gemini South telescope in Chile, in which Australia has a 6.2 per cent share. His precious hour’s worth of observing time on the telescope was the 2009 prize for winning the Australian Gemini School Astronomy Contest, which aims to inspire the next generation of Australian astronomers by involving students in the process of real astronomy at a major professional facility. Continue reading A student’s out-of-this­-world experience

Bringing undiscovered Earths into focus

USING A NEW OBSERVATORY BEING BUILT NORTH OF HOBART, RESEARCHERS AT THE UNIVERSITY OF TASMANIA ARE GEARING UP TO FIND WHETHER THE UNIVERSE HARBOURS MORE PLANETS LIKE EARTH. CREDIT: JOHN GREENHILL, UNIVERSITY OF TASMANIA.
USING A NEW OBSERVATORY BEING BUILT NORTH OF HOBART, RESEARCHERS AT THE UNIVERSITY OF TASMANIA ARE GEARING UP TO FIND WHETHER THE UNIVERSE HARBOURS MORE PLANETS LIKE EARTH. CREDIT: JOHN GREENHILL, UNIVERSITY OF TASMANIA.

How many of the planets scattered across the Universe have the potential to harbour life? An observatory being built in Tasmania is poised to help answer just that question.

Astronomers at the University of Tasmania (UTas) currently use the Mount Canopus Observatory in Hobart to search for Earth-like planets orbiting distant suns—but the growing city is compromising the observatory’s view of space. “Light is driving us away,” says John Greenhill, the Observatory’s director. Continue reading Bringing undiscovered Earths into focus