Picture2Once again Perth’s annual astronomy festival ‘Astrofest’ delighted the public with interesting talks and astronomy awesomeness all evening last weekend. Now in it’s eighth year, approximately 3,500 people joined in on the 18th of March to celebrate all things space and astronomy under and unfortunately cloudy sky.

Held over an indoor stadium and outdoor oval area, Astrofest brings together the WA astronomy community for a night celebrating our night sky and the research going on in the State.

The Square Kilometre Array is a great feature of the evening, as well as its precursors the Murchison Widefield Array (MWA) and CSIRO’s ASKAP which both featured in a 3D printed scale model.

Astrofest also featured some great talks. Yves Doat from the European Space agency shared WA’s role as a gateway to space, local astronomers David Gozzard from ICRAR-UWA spoke on Pluto, the oddball dwarf planet, and Dr Natasha Hurley-Walker shared the stunning results of the MWA’s GLEAM survey. CSIRO’s Dr Ray Norris shared with us the wonders of Australia’s Indigenous People’s astronomy knowledge, and talented Astrophotography Roger Groom gave the rundown on how to take photos of the night sky.

The stunning astrophotography exhibition was on show again with over 40 images from local WA astrophotographers on show. The exhibition will head out again later this year and be on show in Geraldton in August/September.

Astrofest is planned and run by ICRAR, with large support from Scitech and The Astronomical Group of WA, on behalf of the WA Astronomy community. Over 20 organisations are involved in making Astrofest a reality, through funding and volunteer support.

Picture1Credit: Astronomy WA Astrofest

Picture3Credit: Astronomy WA Astrofest

Cosmos Computing

In January, Gregory Rowbotham and Kevin Vinsen went to Burrendah Primary School to test run the new ICRAR Education and Outreach program, “Cosmos Computing”.

The upper primary school students had to work together and become a living computer. Each student in the team was given one of three roles – CPU (Central Processing Unit), ALU (Arithmetic Logic Unit) and Display. The students had a lot of fun following the instructions, or program, given to them. Though they thought it was going to be easy they soon realised that each component of the living computer could only do one task. The CPU could only read instructions; the ALU could only add and subtract numbers; and the Display could only plot a coloured dot on the screen. With these limitations imposed on them the students endeavoured to complete the program before the other teams. The race was on!

By the end of the session the students had a better understanding on how computers function. They realised computers are not smart at all, in fact, they are quite stupid – only good at completing a series of simple tasks very quickly. Amazingly, some of the students not only mastered the basic computer functions allocated to them but also started to come up with ways to do their tasks more efficiently, effectively reinventing the idea of Caching and Hyper-Threading.

The Primary students had a really fun time with the program and also learned a lot about what is actually happening inside the ubiquitous computers they interact with in their everyday lives.

Picture7Credit: ICRAR

Girls in STEM – the SPIRIT Telescope Initiative in Action

A group of year 10 “Hyperscience” students from Iona Presentation College in Perth are busy using SPIRIT to capture the light from distant RR Lyrae stars. Part of the Girls in STEM outreach programme at the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research, these students are engaging in authentic science –acquiring and analysing data and then submitting their light curve photometry to the American Association of Variable Star Observers (AAVSO) for professional accreditation. In many cases, the stars observed by these students are the first to have light curve photometry submitted to the AAVSO. The Hyperscience programme at Iona Presentation College first sees students in year 9 learning about robotic telescope technologies, and engaging in basic remote imaging techniques including astrophotography. Those returning in year 10 undertake science projects. These include minor planet astrometry, bright star spectroscopy (using SPIRIT’s web-enabled bright star spectroscope) or variable star photometry.


Now in its sixth year of operation and housed at the School of Physics at UWA, SPIRIT provides students in Western Australia and beyond free access to research grade telescopes via the web. Students and educators can control these telescopes in real time, engaging in contemporary astronomy and participating in real science. SPIRIT is also supported by a full life cycle of workshops and activities and funded as part of ICRAR’s education and outreach programme.

A flying classroom and a trip to the South Pole

Most high school students can expect excursions to the local science centre, zoo or museum, but how about a trip to a continent few will ever get to see?

On Australia Day, 18 high school students from Kent Street High School in Perth boarded a Qantas Boeing 747 aircraft and fly over the South Magnetic Pole.

The students were accompanied by their award winning teacher Ms Suzy Urbaniak, who received the Prime Minister’s Prize for Excellence in Science Teaching in Secondary Schools last year, and PhD candidates from The University of Western Australia and the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR).

During the 12 hour round trip, PhD candidates Sarah Bruzzese and David Gozzard recreated several classical experiments to detect cosmic rays and measure the Earth’s magnetic field as they approach the South Magnetic Pole.

Mapping the Milky Way

Scientists have created a detailed map of the Milky Way using two of the world’s largest fully steerable radio telescopes in Germany and Australia.

Picture4Credit: Benjamin Winkel and the HI4PIcollaboration.

The research looked at neutral atomic hydrogen—the most abundant element in space and the main component of stars and galaxies—across the whole sky in a survey known as HI4PI.

The HI4PI survey used CSIRO’s Parkes Observatory and the Effelsberg 100m Radio Telescope operated by the Max-Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy. It improves the previous neutral hydrogen study, the Leiden-Argentine-Bonn (LAB) survey, by a factor of two in sensitivity and a factor of four in angular resolution.

Desert Telescope views sky in radio technicolour

A telescope located deep in the West Australian outback has shown what the Universe would look like if human eyes could see radio waves.

The GaLactic and Extragalactic All-sky MWA, or ‘GLEAM’ survey, has produced a catalogue of 300,000 galaxies observed by the Murchison Widefield Array (MWA), a $50 million radio telescope located at a remote site northeast of Geraldton.GLEAM_still_2_small

Credit: Radio image by Natasha Hurley-Walker (ICRAR/Curtin) and the GLEAM Team. MWA tile and landscape by Dr John Goldsmith / Celestial Visions.

GLEAM is a large-scale, high-resolution survey of the radio sky observed at frequencies from 70 to 230 MHz, observing radio waves that have been travelling through space—some for billions of years.

Completing the GLEAM survey with the MWAis a big step on the path to SKA-low, the low frequency part of the international Square Kilometre Array (SKA) radio telescope to be built in Australia in the coming years.

Report provided by the ICRAR