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Australian telescope on track to lead world

10 June 2014

Test results confirm that Australian radio astronomy technology, being developed as a key component of Australia’s contribution to the international Square Kilometre Array (SKA) radio telescope, is breaking new ground.

New images of the sky made by CSIRO’s Australian SKA Pathfinder (ASKAP) telescope in Western Australia show that this ‘precursor’ to the much larger SKA telescope is performing superbly.

Novel ‘phased array feed’ technology used in the ASKAP telescope has enabled it to achieve these new results, placing it well on course to achieve its ambitious science goals.

ASKAP, one of two precursor telescopes at the remote site in the Mid-West Region of WA, is developing and proving ground-breaking Australian technology which will eventually be incorporated into the SKA.

Initial funding for ASKAP was provided under the Howard Government in 2006 and the international collaboration has been supported by all Governments since.

“These early images show that the Australian Government’s investment in this facility is paying off: we are now leading the world in these aspects of astronomy imaging,” Federal Industry Minister, Ian Macfarlane said.

“We have broken new ground with innovative technology that will have potential applications extending far beyond radio astronomy.”

The test involved making an image from nine overlapping regions of the sky captured simultaneously from ‘beams’ generated by the phased array technology. The image area measured 50 times the size of the full moon.

Acknowledging CSIRO’s achievement at the ASKAP, Australian SKA Director, Professor Brian Boyle said, “The future of radio astronomy has arrived.

“Since the ASKAP telescope is still going through its commissioning stage, only six of its 36 antennas were used for the test, and only nine of the potential 36 ‘beams’ were generated as part of the tests.

“Even at this early stage, ASKAP is able to make new images twice as fast as any comparable telescope in the Southern Hemisphere.  When completed, ASKAP will be able to survey the sky 25 times faster still, and will be the world’s premier survey telescope for centimetre-wavelength radio astronomy.”

ASKAP is expected to be operating for research next year.

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