New Australian astronomy centre

Australia from space

Astronomy is booming in Australia, and the new Macquarie Astronomy, Astrophysics and Astrophotonics Research Centre aims to be among the best in the nation.

THE MACQUARIE ASTRONOMY, Astrophysics and Astrophotonics Research Centre (MQRC AAA) has been officially launched.

The research centre, led by Professor Quentin Parker, has ties to over 100 national and international universities, observatories, research institutions and commercial companies in 23 countries.

This solid network will provide for effective multi-national collaborative research programs and partnerships with some of the world’s leading institutions.

With its planned growth in research, the centre is predicted to soon be among the top four astronomy cohorts in Australia, alongside the Australian National University, the University of Sydney and Swinburne University.

Apart from many exciting mainstream astrophysics research programs and strong growth in the emerging field of cutting-edge astrophotonics, the centre has many other major projects already underway.

One example is the Macquarie University-led $2.4 million dollar ARC supported project ‘Space to Grow’ which combines astronomers with educational, ICT and science teaching experts to engage high school students in science using the hook of astronomy.

At the cutting edge

Macquarie has emerged as a world leader in the discovery and study of planetary nebulae in our galaxy and Large Magellanic Cloud. Knowledge of planetary nebulae—the death throes of many types of stars—is important to understand the evolution of stars, the spread of chemical elements through space, among others fields.

The Ring Nebula

Planetary nebulae are a focus of research at Macquarie

“Macquarie is playing a key role in unravelling the complexities of these fascinating phenomena,” Professor Parker told SpaceInfo.

“We are also strong in galactic archaeology—the ‘genetic’ finger-printing of vast numbers of stars in our galaxy to expose the fossil record of how the Milky Way formed and evolved,” he added.

Radio astronomy is another field where Macquarie intends to increase its profile.

“We have a very strong strategic vision to expand our expertise and involvement in radio astronomy,” said Professor Parker. “This is a tremendous strength of Australian astronomy and, as with our extremely strong links with the AAO, we want to take advantage of our close physical proximity to the ATNF/CASS to develop close-links and projects.”

One of the most exciting technologies in astronomy at the moment is astrophotonics. This is the use of special optical techniques, including fibre optics, to improve the sensitivity and efficiency of major telescopes.

“We are involved in several major projects associated with cutting edge astronomical instrumentation and are working closely with the Australian Astronomical Observatory and Sydney University to create a powerful astrophotonics triumvirate in Sydney,” said Professor Parker.

Collaborative effort

The new MQRC AAA will also have a strong focus on building links to the Indigenous community by engaging the Aboriginal Astronomy Research Group, a group dedicated to researching the astronomical knowledge and traditions of Indigenous Australians.

Professor Parker has been overwhelmed with the support received in order to make this launch possible.

“Thanks must go to Macquarie itself for so strongly supporting astronomy over the last eight years and allowing our potential to be realised,” said Parker.

“We must also thank the Australian Astronomical Observatory, our major external partner and the Australian Research Council whose support has been crucial to our spectacular growth.”

The collaborations that this new centre will encourage are sure to see a strong growth in the outstanding research outputs in astronomy, astrophysics and astrophotonics by Macquarie University in the future.

Adapted from information issued by Macquarie University. Images courtesy NASA.

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