Radio astronomy

Western Australia has a strong presence in the field of radio astronomy.
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About radio astronomy

Radio astronomy is the study of space objects and phenomena by capturing radio waves from space.

Special telescopes called radio telescopes provide different views to optical telescopes. Radio telescopes can detect gas that is invisible to the human eye, and can be used during the night and the day.

Radio telescopes capture extremely large volumes of data. Radio astronomers use sophisticated computer programming to unravel the data and study the birth and death of stars, the formation of galaxies and the different kinds of matter in the Universe.

Radio astronomy is captured under the space priority area in the Western Australian Government’s Science and Innovation Framework.

Radio astronomy in Western Australia

The WA Government's investment in radio astronomy and related activities has led to benefits for WA, including:

  • significant science infrastructure
  • high calibre radio astronomy and engineering expertise
  • employment opportunities
  • science education outcomes
  • international collaborations.

WA's Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory is currently home to 2 world-leading radio telescopes and will host the Australian component of the international Square Kilometre Array project.

The success of the Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory has put WA and the Mid West on the map as a key location for radio astronomy and positioned WA to participate in the Square Kilometre Array.

The establishment of the International Centre of Radio Astronomy Research, a joint venture between the University of Western Australia and Curtin University, occurred in 2009 with WA Government funding.

In less than a decade, International Centre of Radio Astronomy Research built a world-class centre of excellence in astronomical science, engineering and information technologies. It is now one of the largest radio astronomy research groups in Australia, with more than 120 researchers.

The Pawsey Supercomputing Centre is at the forefront of data processing and analytics and provides important support for radio astronomy activities at the Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory. As host to the Southern Hemisphere's most powerful publicly funded research supercomputer 'Magnus,' the Pawsey Supercomputing Centre is used by a wide range of industries beyond radio astronomy, including medical research and the minerals and resources sector.

Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory

The Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory is located approximately 315 kilometres northeast of Geraldton in Western Australia's Mid West region.

The Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory area is sparsely populated, with exceptionally low radio interference and excellent observing conditions. The Australian and Western Australian Governments have established the Australian Radio Quiet Zone WA to protect the radio-quiet nature of the site.

The Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory currently hosts 2 world-leading radio astronomy telescopes, the Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder and the Murchison Widefield Array. These successful precursor telescopes are paving the way for WA to host the Australian component of the international Square Kilometre Array project.

Square Kilometre Array

We play a key role to:

  • coordinate the Western Australian Government's involvement in the Square Kilometre Array project
  • maximise the benefits to Western Australia.

The Square Kilometre Array is an international endeavour to build the world's largest and most sensitive radio telescope. The Square Kilometre Array will provide a great leap in sensitivity, resolution and survey speed compared to existing radio telescopes, enabling it to revolutionise our understanding of the universe.

The international Square Kilometre Array Organisation has 10 member countries, with even more countries participating in the Square Kilometre Array design effort. The Square Kilometre Array will be hosted in Australia and South Africa.

The Australian component of the Square Kilometre Array will be centred on and around the Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory in the WA's Mid West region.

Australia will host the SKA1-Low telescope, the low-frequency component of the Square Kilometre Array project. SKA1-Low will comprise over 130,000 dipole antennas shaped like wireframe Christmas trees.

Co-hosting the Square Kilometre Array is expected to enhance WA'sscience reputation, provide our scientists and industry with international collaboration opportunities, and inspire the next generation of scientists. The project could also lead to new technologies, in the same way the technology underpinning Wi-Fi wireless internet was originally developed by CSIRO for radio astronomy.

The Square Kilometre Array's unprecedented data processing requirements will require new techniques in the big data and supercomputing sector. Hosting the Square Kilometre Array is expected to advantage WA's place in the global big data industry, with applications across a broad range of industries, including oil and gas and mineral resources.

For more information about the project in Australia, visit the Australian Government's Square Array website.

For more information on the SKA globally, visit the international Square Kilometre Array Organisation website.