Aussies unite for outback astronomy

MWA antennae

A small part of the Murchison Wide-field Array, which will comprise over 500 separate antennae…most of them located in a cluster 1.5km wide. The antennae are of an advanced new type, with no moving parts.

A QUEST TO DISCOVER the first stars and galaxies formed after the Big Bang is underway with the first major pieces of a revolutionary new radio telescope built in remote Western Australia.

The Murchison Wide-field Array (MWA) is being built by an Australian consortium led by The International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR), a joint venture between Curtin University and The University of Western Australia, in close collaboration with US and Indian partners.

MWA industry partner and Fremantle-based high-technology company, Poseidon Scientific Instruments (PSI), recently succeeded in packaging sensitive electronics into environmentally controlled enclosures tough enough to withstand the harsh conditions of outback WA.

Professor Steven Tingay, ICRAR Deputy Director, said PSI’s delivery of this first electronics package was a critical milestone for the MWA project.

MWA receiver

The MWA Receiver with Professor Steven Tingay (ICRAR), Jesse H Searls (PSI), Derek Carroll (PSI), and Mark Waterson (ICRAR).

“This is the first of 64 such enclosures that will service a telescope made up of over 500 antennae, spread over a nine square-kilometre area of the remote Murchison region in WA,” said Professor Tingay.

Professor Tingay said the innovative enclosure would also prevent electronics from interfering with other equipment on the site, preserving the uniquely quiet environment of the Murchison.

“The combination of the MWA and the radio quiet environment of the Murchison will allow us to search for the incredibly weak signals that come from the early stages in the evolution of the Universe, some 13 billion years ago,” he said.

The MWA is located at the Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory, a site operated by the CSIRO and a proposed core site for the multi-billion dollar Square Kilometre Array (SKA).

It is one of only three official SKA Precursor telescopes, proving the technology and science on the path to the SKA.

One of ICRAR’s goals is to partner with Australian industries, helping position them to participate in future radio astronomy opportunities, such as the SKA. The MWA partnership with PSI is one such success story.

Breaking new ground

Meanwhile, work is gathering pace out in the Western Australian desert.

Following a tender evaluation process, McConnell Dowell Constructors (Aust) Pty Ltd. has been selected by CSIRO as the successful tender in the construction of support infrastructure at the Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory (MRO).

Artist's impression of the SKA

Artist's impression of the central part of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA).

The project commences immediately, has a 45-week schedule and is a significant milestone in the ongoing development of the site.

The scope of work involves the construction of several kilometres of access roads and tracks, power and data infrastructure, a central control building and 30 radio antenna concrete foundations, as well as ancillary works.

The MRO is located in the Mid West region of Western Australia, and will be home to world-class instruments including CSIRO’s Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder (ASKAP) radio telescope. The MRO is also the Australia–New Zealand candidate core site for the future $2.5bn Square Kilometre Array (SKA) telescope project.

Adapted from information issued by ICRAR / CSIRO. MWA image courtesy Paul Bourke and Jonathan Knispel (supported by WASP (UWA), iVEC, ICRAR, and CSIRO).

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