ASKAP Report

ASKAP’s “particularly incredible” Image

CSIRO’s Australian SKA Pathfinder (ASKAP) telescope was in the media spotlight this week with the release by ANU Professor, Naomi McClure-Griffiths, of this ground-breaking image of the Small Magellanic Cloud (SMC).

Atomic hydrogen gas in the Small Magellanic Cloud as imaged with CSIRO’s Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder (ASKAP). The Small Magellanic Cloud, only 200,000 light years away, is one of our nearest galactic neighbours and visible to the naked eye in the Southern sky. Credit: ANU & CSIRO

In her Twitter feed, Naomi remarked that it’s particularly incredible that this ASKAP image of the SMC is a single field of view! The last time the SMC was imaged in HI it took 320 pointings of the Australian Telescope Compact Array.

The Small Magellanic Cloud, which is a tiny fraction of the size and mass of the Milky Way, is one of our nearest galactic neighbours and visible to the naked eye in the southern sky. Thus the significance of this image to astronomers but also to the general public. We can all look up and see the stars from this dwarf galaxy and now have a detailed image that reveals its hydrogen make-up.

The new image reveals more gas around the edges of the galaxy and these features are more than three times smaller than we were able to see before. This is enabling examination of the detailed interaction of the SMC and its neighbouring galaxies.

The image was taken using 16 of ASKAP’s 36 dish antennas and is being described as a teaser for what’s to come when the full array comes on-line next year.

The bad news however according to Naomi, is that the outlook for this dwarf galaxy isn’t great – it’s likely to be gobbled up by the Milky Way.

H’array for ASKAP

The pop of a champagne cork isn’t a noise that’s likely to cause any radio frequency interference but it’s nevertheless rarely heard on site at CSIRO’s Murchison Radio astronomy Observatory (MRO).

But on 21 November, the Observatory team turned up the gas on the barbie and got together to celebrate the installation of the 36th and final phased array feed (PAF) receiver on the Australian SKA Pathfinder (ASKAP) telescope!

This milestone marks the completion of the installation of ADE MKII receivers for ASKAP-36.

“As usual it was a real team effort. There was something special about being able to sit there at the antenna after the final PAF went up. The weather was unbelievably nice to us and although the sun was a factor, the breeze kept the flies away (mostly)!” said Brett Hiscock, MRO Site Leader.

ASKAP Director Ant Schinckel, congratulated the team on this milestone achievement.

He thanked the team for their hard work and said these are the finishing touches for the mechanical construction of ASKAP, with the final digital systems expected early next year and then the ramp through software releases soon to follow – allowing full operation of the 36 antenna array.

CSIRO will also be shipping a PAF to the Jodrell Bank Observatory, for installation in the Lovell Telescope, after having delivered a PAF to the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy, for the Effelsberg radio telescope, in 2016.

Astronomical excursion for the Students from the Pia Wajarri School

As part of the Indigenous Land Use Agreement (ILUA) between the Australian Government and the Wajarri Yamaji – traditional Owners of the land on which the Murchison Radio astronomy Observatory (MRO) is located – CSIRO’s Rob Hollow, Dr Shi Dai and Dr Zoe Taylor, took an annual trip to Pia Wajarri Remote Community School; and travelled with the students and teachers to the MRO.

Shi, a young astronomer, talked to the students about his career in astronomy and about how stars and galaxies form in the Universe.

Zoe talked about why she’s interested in software engineering and inspired the students talking about her work on the Australian SKA Pathfinder telescope. Zoe also introduced coding to the students with Spheros (the programmable robot).

Zoe and Rob used the Sphero robots to demonstrate coding and showed the students how to write their own simple programs. But the fun really began when Rob brought out the alka-seltzer water rockets and set up a challenge to see whose could fly the furthest.

Out at the MRO, the students and teachers got up close to ASKAP and learnt about how the dishes are operated and saw the many different directions they can point to in the sky. Rob managed to squeeze in a scale exercise, asking the students to estimate the size of the dishes.

At the control building, CSIRO’s James Hannah was working on some of the cool and colourful electronics boards and gave the young locals a close-up look at these high-tech electronics.

The party headed back to Pia via the MWA and also saw the AAVS1 test array, where they heard all about the world’s biggest telescope, the Square Kilometre Array which will be built right there in their beautiful ‘backyard’.


Report provided by Annabelle Young, CSIRO