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Australia’s night sky – amazing time-lapse film

A NEW TIME-LAPSE VIDEO has captured the beauty of the night sky above the Anglo-Australian Telescope at Siding Spring Observatory in eastern Australia.

It was made by astronomy research fellow Dr Ángel López-Sánchez (Australian Astronomical Observatory and Macquarie University).

“I made the video by combining about 3,800 frames, each of which I had processed individually,” said Dr López-Sánchez. “Each second in the video corresponds to 12 minutes in real time.”

Dr López-Sánchez took the images between June and September this year, at times when he was working as a duty astronomer at the Anglo-Australian Telescope, using a Canon EOS 600D camera.

He had to contend with bad weather, wind knocking the camera over, and, on one occasion, stubborn kangaroos that blocked his access to the camera. But after a few months he had the material.

Dr López-Sánchez has been a keen photographer since he was twelve but this is his first time-lapse project. He now has another project under way that will give a “behind the scenes” look at the Anglo-Australian Telescope.

Adapted from information issued by AAO / Dr Ángel López-Sánchez.

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New way of looking at the sky

THE SKY IS NO LONGER THE LIMIT for Australian astronomy, with CAASTRO—the new ARC (Australian Research Council) Centre of Excellence for All-sky Astrophysics—launching recently.

CAASTRO is taking a revolutionary new approach to astronomy by using an all-sky perspective to answer the big questions about our universe, bringing together unique expertise across six Australian universities, along with local and international partners.

“CAASTRO is a major new initiative that is revolutionising the way we see the universe,” says Professor Bryan Gaensler, director of CAASTRO and based in the School of Physics at the University of Sydney.

“The traditional approach to astronomy has had a lot of success, but we’re now running up against a whole range of questions these old approaches can’t answer,” he adds.

Australia in the vanguard

“The big unsolved questions in astronomy demand entirely new approaches, requiring us to look at the whole sky at once, rather than studying single objects in the sky in isolation,” says Professor Gaensler.

“You really need to look at how everything works together to truly understand what is going on out there and that’s what CAASTRO will do with our all-sky approach to astronomy.”

“CAASTRO research will use wider fields of view, with bigger data sets, processed more deeply and more subtly, than anyone has attempted before,” he adds.

CAASTRO team members

(L-R) CAASTRO team members Associate Professor Scott Croom, Professor Elaine Sadler, Professor Bryan Gaensler and PhD student Kitty Lo.

“In the last few years, Australia has invested more than $400 million in new wide-field telescopes and the high-performance computers needed to process the resulting torrents of data. Using these new tools, Australia now has the chance to be at the vanguard of the upcoming information revolution in all-sky astronomy.”

Tackling the big questions

CAASTRO brings together expertise in radio astronomy, optical astronomy, theoretical astrophysics and computation to investigate three interlinked themes: the evolving universe, the dynamic universe, and the dark universe.

CAASTRO’s three interlinked research themes are:

  • The evolving universe: when did the first galaxies form, and how have they evolved?
  • The dynamic universe: what is the high-energy physics that drives rapid change in the universe?
  • The dark universe: what are the dark energy and dark matter that dominate the cosmos?

Professor Gaensler says CAASTRO’s strength is that it will be a collaborative structure that for the first time combines the relevant expertise and resources into a single coherent unit.

“In addition to our revolutionary science, we’ve decided right from the outset that CAASTRO should also put a high priority on training the next generation of scientists, on providing a family friendly environment for all our staff, and engaging with schools and the public with outreach activities,” he adds.

The new centre is led by the University of Sydney, in collaboration with the Australian National University, the University of Melbourne, the University of Western Australia, Curtin University and Swinburne University of Technology.

Adapted from information issued by CAASTRO. Images courtesy CAASTRO, ESO and CASS / Swinburne.

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Galaxies are running out of gas

A star-forming region

Compared to earlier cosmic epochs, galaxies these days are running of out of the gas raw material with which to make new stars. (Hubble Space Telescope image.)

THE UNIVERSE FORMS FEWER STARS than it used to, and a CSIRO study has now shown why—compared to the past, galaxies today have less gas from which to make stars.

Dr Robert Braun (CSIRO Astronomy and Space Science) and his colleagues used CSIRO’s Mopra radio telescope near Coonabarabran, NSW, to study far-off galaxies and compare them with nearby ones.

Light (and radio waves) from the distant galaxies takes time to travel to us, so we see the galaxies as they were between three and five billion years ago.

Galaxies at that stage of the Universe’s life appear to contain considerably more molecular hydrogen gas than comparable galaxies in today’s Universe, the research team found.

Stars form from clouds of molecular hydrogen. The less molecular hydrogen there is, the fewer stars will form.

The research team’s paper is in press in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

Raw material for stars

Astronomers have known for at least 15 years that the rate of star formation peaked when the Universe was only a few billion years old and has declined steeply ever since.

“Our result helps us understand why the lights are going out,” Dr Braun said. “Star formation has used up most of the available molecular hydrogen gas.”

Mopra radio telescope

CSIRO's Mopra radio telescope near Coonabarabran in New South Wales.

After stars form, they shed gas during various stages of their lives, or in dramatic events such as explosions (supernovae). This returns some gas to space to contribute to further star formation.

“But most of the original gas—about 70%—remains locked up, having been turned into things such as white dwarfs, neutron stars and planets,” Dr Braun said.

“So the molecular gas is used up over time. We find that the decline in the molecular gas is similar to the pattern of decline in star formation, although during the time interval that we have studied, it is declining even more rapidly.”

Dark energy the demon

Ultimately, the real problem is the rate at which galaxies are “refuelled” from outside.

Gas falls into galaxies from the space between galaxies, the intergalactic medium. Two-thirds of the gas in the universe is still found in the intergalactic medium—the space between the galaxies—and only one third has already been consumed by previous star formation in galaxies, astronomers think.

“The drop-off in both gas availability and star formation seems to have started around the time that Dark Energy took control of the Universe,” Dr Braun said.

Up until that time, gravity dominated the Universe, so the gas was naturally pulled in to galaxies, but then the effect of Dark Energy took over and the Universe started expanding faster and faster.

This accelerating expansion has probably made it increasingly difficult for galaxies to capture the additional gas they need to fuel future generations of star formation, Dr Braun speculates.

Adapted from information issued by CSIRO; NASA, ESA, STScI/AURA.

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Australia from Space: Part 3

Lake Acraman seen from space

Lake Acraman sits inside the eroded ruins of an ancient impact crater in the Gawler Ranges in South Australia. Presently about 20 kilometres wide, the original crater could have been up to 85 or 90 kilometres across. It is thought to have formed during the impact of a large meteoroid about 580 million years ago.

AFTER ANTARCTICA, AUSTRALIA IS THE DRIEST continent on Earth, and is largely covered by desert. But even the desert sometimes gets rain, as witnessed by the salt lakes spread throughout the landscape. Although usually dry, they very occasionally can receive water, often as runoff from higher ground.

These amazing images of the Australian ‘outback’were taken by Italian astronaut Paolo Nespoli during his stay aboard the International Space Station.

Lake Cadibarrawirracanna seen from space

According to Wikipedia, Lake Cadibarrawirracanna has the distinction of having the second-longest official place name in Australia. This salt lake is found within the Woomera Prohibited Area in South Australia. Woomera was once a very active rocket launch facility in the 1950s and 1960s. The name Cadibarrawirracanna means 'stars dancing on water'.

Lake Frome seen from space

Another salt lake is Lake Frome, also in South Australia. An ephemeral lake, it spends most of its life dry but sometimes fills with water. According to indigenous Australian Dreamtime mythology, the Rainbow Serpent Akurra drank all the water in the lake.

Lake Noondie seen from space

Lake Noondie, another salt lake, is located in the remote Murchison area of Western Australia.

Terrain near Lake Willis seen from space

This looks like an amazing piece of artwork, or maybe stained tissue cells under a microscope. In fact, what we see here is the dramatic red landscape near Lake Willis in Western Australia.

Red sand dunes in Western Australia, seen from space

Another apparent artwork, this time red sand dunes in outback Western Australia. Fuffy white clouds show there is some moisture in the air.

Earlier Australia from Space pictorials:

Australia from Space: Part 1

Australia from Space: Part 2

Adapted from information issued by ESA / NASA.

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Aussie scope to be upgraded

Artist's impression of an exoplanet

The University of Western Australia's 1-metre robotic Zadko Telescope will search for new planets, exploding stars and space junk.

THE UNIVERSITY OF WESTERN AUSTRALIA’S (UWA) Gingin-based Zadko Telescope will get a clearer view thanks to an agreement signed between UWA and the WA Department of Environment and Conservation (DEC) that enhances the partnership between these two organisations.

The 1-metre robotic Zadko Telescope is currently housed in an inadequate dome that is not up to the rigours of robotic operation.

Zadko Telescope

Zadko Telescope

Under the collaboration between DEC and UWA, DEC will contribute $100,000 towards the construction of a new building where the telescope will reach its full potential.

DEC astronomer Ralph Martin of Perth Observatory said: “Part of the collaboration with UWA includes searching for undiscovered planets orbiting distant stars.”

Zadko Telescope Director, UWA Associate Professor David Coward, said the new Zadko Observatory building would significantly enhance the research capabilities of DEC and UWA.

“The upgrade will also strengthen our collaboration with TAROT (Fast Action Telescopes for Transient Objects), the French international network of robotic telescopes,” Professor Coward said. “Our international team will be on the hunt for new planets and exploding stars.”

“The new Zadko Observatory building will also allow our collaboration to scan the sky for space junk that threatens the satellites on which we depend for almost every aspect of daily life from telecommunications, weather reports, security and navigation, to information about mineral deposits.”

Adapted from information issued by UWA.

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Dishes take shape in the desert

ASKAP dishes

The Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder, or ASKAP, is under construction in the remote Western Australian desert.

THE CSIRO’S LATEST RADIO TELESCOPE—the Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder, or ASKAP—is now taking shape in the remote Western Australian desert.

When completed in 2012 it will comprise 36 dishes all acting in concert to produce the same result as one big dish. Cutting-edge receiver technology invented by CSIRO scientists will give it an extremely wide field of view. This, coupled with high-speed electronics and an ultra-fast optical fibre link to a dedicated computing centre in Perth, will make ASKAP arguably the best radio telescope system in the world.

ASKAP’s first five years of observations are already booked out by teams from around the world, and the science studies it will tackle are some of the biggest around—how did the earliest stars and galaxies form; how have galaxies evolved through time; what role has magnetism played in the cosmos; and can Einstein’s theories stand ever-more stringent tests?

Antony Schinckel

ASKAP Project Director, Antony Schinckel

ASKAP is also the Australian and New Zealand “pathfinder” for the ultimate prize—the Square Kilometre Array, or SKA. The SKA will be a vast collection of thousands of dishes and antennae spread across an area the size of a continent. A decision will be made next year by an international committee, as to whether the SKA will be hosted in Australia-New Zealand or southern Africa. The linked telescopes will make images ten times more detailed than those of the Hubble Space Telescope. wanted to get an update on progress with ASKAP, so we spoke to the man in charge—ASKAP Project Director Antony Schinckel, of CSIRO’s Astronomy and Space Science division—to find out how things are going in the WA desert:

Can you give us a rundown on the state of construction of ASKAP?

We’re very happy with how things are going—we’re at the point where there is substantial activity on site. Major infrastructure construction commenced in May. The first phase of that was that the company doing the work needed to put in their temporary accommodation camp, as there are no motels for hundreds of kilometres!

Between now and early December we’ll complete all of the 30 remaining antenna foundations, the access tracks to each antennae, fibre and power distribution around the site and to each antenna, and then the central building as well—all of the primary infrastructure that doesn’t include the science instruments and power systems.

It must be a difficult task, building hi-tech facilities that are essentially in the middle of nowhere?

With these remote sites there are a lot of logistics that need to be understood and got moving properly, but the contractors have a fair bit of experience with that. Most of it is normal civil engineering, although there are a few subtleties—for instance, the concrete foundations for the antennae need to be a certain minimum stiffness.

The unusual bits in a sense are the optical data fibre links between the antennae and the central site. Our raw data rate will be phenomenally high, about 74 terabits per second for the total 36 antennae. That data then goes into some special equipment (the beam former and the correlator) which ramps down the rate fairly significantly before it is sent via cable down to Perth.

ASKAP antenna

ASKAP will comprise 36 hi-tech antennae

How are you going to handle the enormous amounts of data produced by the 36 ASKAP antennae?

Well, it’s going to be a really interesting challenge how we treat this. We can’t afford to archive the absolute raw data—the volume is just too high. So working out which are the critical data products to archive right up front is going to prove a real challenge. We’ve clearly got some plans on which ones are the most important, but it’ll be fascinating to see over the next few years if we end up archiving those or finding we have to modify it a little bit.

The Pawsey Centre in Perth is a key part of this in terms of the data reduction.

The actual fibre in the ground that CSIRO has put in, is through a contract with AARNet with major sub-contracts to CCTS and North Coast Holdings, out of Geraldton. The fibre has now been fully laid and tested. The fibre is all buried, which is easier long term than having it up on aerial poles. The fibre is better protected when buried. There are three booster huts along the length of the fibre.

There are two remote booster huts that are solar powered with the possibility of back-up diesel if required. And there’s one in the town of Mullewa, which is just on grid power with back-up.

As far as terrain goes, there’s a gentle slope 350km up from Geraldton to the site—we end up at an elevation of about 370 metres.

How will you supply electrical power to such a remote site?

With power, our intention long-term is to have as a renewable a power source as we possibly can. For all sorts of obvious reasons, we want to go with generating most of our power through whatever renewable resources we have. Out in that region of Western Australia in particular, solar power is extremely attractive. It’s one of the places with the highest solar insolation in the world. So solar will be a substantial part of it.

To begin with we’ll have a base power capability from diesel generators, but over a number of years we’ll be expecting to be adding or start off with some solar on top of the diesel, and then in a couple of more years we have some additional funds that will enable us to expand that significantly around 2013-14.

ASKAP dish being installed

The CSIRO has been particularly pleased with the quality of the antennae, built by the 54th Research Institute of China Electronics Technology Group Corporation (known as CETC54).

Power storage is something of an issue. That’s partly why we’ve put the funding back a couple of years, to see what eventuates with power storage options by the time ASKAP is really up and operational. The focus now is on what we need to get it going.

You have six dishes installed and two more being installed right now. What’s the schedule for the rest of them?

It’s a fairly continuous process of installing the remaining antennae right through this year and into early 2012, at about 3 to 4 per month. A team from the Chinese manufacturer, CETC54, comes out to supervise their construction.

With the dishes, there’s one point there that we’ve been particularly thrilled with. We specified a surface accuracy of 1mm but the delivered capability substantially exceeds that—most of the antennae are coming in with an accuracy of about 0.5mm. This means in the long-term they could be used to do observations at much higher frequencies than originally planned, giving us very good long-term flexibility.

Another thing that CETC54 has achieved is that we don’t have to adjust the surfaces. They’ve come up with a manufacturing technique in China and then at installation here that means it’s literally a case of just bolting the dish panels together … there’s no fine adjustment necessary here in Australia.

Given that it is such remote site, will there be people stationed there on a regular basis?

No, not for operations. Like most telescopes these days, it can be operated by remote control from anywhere. However, with an array as big and as complex as this—36 antennae, vast data rates, these huge specialised digital systems—it really is a dramatic step forward. The telescope is about a factor of 10 more powerful than any other radio telescope in the world. So regular maintenance will be required to keep the system up and running, and there will be people going out to the site to do that.

The road to ASKAP

ASKAP is being built in one of the remotest parts of the world, 350 kilometres inland from Geraldton in Western Australia.

Finally, from a personal standpoint, what’s it like to be out there in the WA desert? The conditions must be pretty challenging.

Many telescopes are built in remote sites, but mostly they’re built where there’s already some level of infrastructure. For us working out at Boolardy Station, you have to bring in absolutely everything. You know intellectually that that’s true, but nonetheless on the day when you realise you really do need that special screwdriver, you find it is 350km away! It’s one of those classics where you know philosophically how to do something, and you think you’ve got it covered…but boy, there really is no give and take on that.

Summers out there are pretty warm. We’ve managed to move schedules around to deal with that, and it’s quite manageable; it’s just a case of thinking things out sensibly. We’ve worked a lot with regional contractors in WA who are experienced at this and we’ve shifted our mindset to suit the climate.

The wildlife situation reminds us that we’re living in Australia. The numbers of kangaroos, emus, goannas and snakes, has been quite impressive. Snakes in particular are the most dangerous local wildlife, but we’ve got good procedures in place to deal with them.

Story by Jonathan Nally, Images courtesy CASS / Terrace Photographers / Paul Bourke and Jonathan Knispel (Supported by WASP (UWA), iVEC, ICRAR, and CSIRO).

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Milestone as radio dishes linked

ASKAP antennae

Antennae of CSIRO's Australian SKA Pathfinder (ASKAP) telescope in Western Australia were linked with other dishes across Australasia to provide incredible detail of a distant quasar. Photo: Terrace Photographers

THE DISCOVERY POTENTIAL of the future international Square Kilometre Array (SKA) radio telescope has been glimpsed following the commissioning of a working optical fibre link between CSIRO’s Australian SKA Pathfinder (ASKAP) telescope in Western Australia, and other radio telescopes across Australia and New Zealand.

The achievement will be announced at the 2011 International SKA Forum, taking place this week in Banff, Canada.

On 29 June, six telescopes—ASKAP, three CSIRO telescopes in New South Wales, a University of Tasmania telescope and another operated by the Auckland University of Technology—were used together to observe a radio source that may be two black holes orbiting each other.

Data from all sites were streamed in real time to Curtin University in Perth  (a node of the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research) and there processed to make an image.

This ability to successfully link antennae (dishes) over large distances will be vital for the future $2.5 billion SKA telescope, which will have several thousand antennae, up to 5,500 kilometres apart, working together as a single telescope. Linking antennae in such a manner allows astronomers to see distant galaxies in more detail.

Map of antennae across Australia and New Zealand

The network of radio telescope dishes stretched across Australia and New Zealand. Image: Carl Davies, CSIRO

“We now have an SKA-scale network in Australia and New Zealand: a combination of CSIRO and NBN-supported fibre and the existing AARNET and KAREN research and education networks,” said SKA Director for Australasia, Dr Brian Boyle.

Watching as black holes feed

The radio source the astronomers targeted was PKS 0637-752, a quasar that lies more than seven and a half billion light-years away from us.

This quasar emits a spectacular radio jet with regularly spaced bright spots in it, like a string of pearls. Some astronomers have suggested that this striking pattern is created by two black holes in orbit around each other, one black hole periodically triggering the other to ‘feed’ and emit a burst of radiation.

Radio image of a quasar

The radio dish network was used to zoom in on quasar PKS0637-752, at the heart of which is thought to be two black holes circling each other. ATCA image: L. Godfrey (Curtin Uni.) and J. Lovell (Uni. of Tasmania). Image from telescope network: S. Tingay (Curtin Uni.) et al.

‘It’s a fascinating object, and we were able to zoom right into its core, seeing details just a few millionths of a degree in scale, equivalent to looking at a 10-cent piece from a distance of 1,000 kilometres,’ said CSIRO astronomer Dr Tasso Tzioumis.

During the experiment Dr Tzioumis and fellow CSIRO astronomer Dr Chris Phillips controlled all the telescopes over the Internet from Sydney.

Curtin University’s Professor Steven Tingay and his research team built the system used to process the telescope data. “Handling the terabytes of data that will stream from ASKAP is within reach, and we are on the path to the SKA,” he said.

“For an SKA built in Australia and New Zealand, this technology will help connect the SKA to major radio telescopes in China, Japan, India and Korea.”

AARNet, which provides the data network for Australia’s research institutions, has recently shown that it can implement data rates of up to 40 Gbps on existing fibre networks. That figure is for a single wavelength, and one fibre can support up to 80 wavelengths.

Adapated from information issued by CSIRO Astronomy and Space Science.

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New SPIRIT for student astronomy

SPICE Physics ICRAR Remote Internet Telescope

The $100,000 SPIRIT II telescope based at the University of Western Australia, will give students easy, remote access to a world-class optical observatory.

MORE WESTERN AUSTRALIAN SCHOOL STUDENTS will be able to take part in an innovative astronomy programme through The University of Western Australia (UWA), thanks to an agreement signed yesterday between Hawaiian Pty Ltd and UWA.

Funded by Hawaiian (a commercial property development and management company) and UWA, the $100,000 sophisticated optical telescope, SPIRIT II, will boost the successful SPIRIT I programme.
SPIRIT II will enhance and extend the University’s School Outreach and Teacher Development programme, SPIRIT I. SPIRIT I is the SPICE-Physics-ICRAR Remote Internet Telescope. SPIRIT II provides the latest equipment and offers a broader range of scientific research.

The new telescope will enable many more Education Department schools throughout WA to benefit from the programme in which students from Years 7 to 12 use their home computers to take their own images of galaxies hundreds of millions of light years away and of planets, comets and asteroids.

Astronomy from the classroom

UWA Vice-Chancellor Professor Alan Robson said the University expected the programme to encourage more young people to seriously contemplate studying science at tertiary level.

“This programme showcases science as an exciting subject – and Australia needs more scientists if we are to progress as a nation,” Professor Robson said.

Globular star cluster

An image of a globular star cluster, taken by the SPIRIT I telescope.

“We are grateful to Hawaiian for its generous donation and partnership in this venture.”

Paul Luckas, SPIRIT I and II Programme Manager at UWA’s Centre for Learning Technology, said no matter how remote their school, students would be able to use their home computers at night and take their own images.

“All they need is the Internet to access two powerful telescopes when SPIRIT II joins its ‘little sister’ SPIRIT I on the roof of the UWA Physics building,” Mr Luckas said.

Hawaiian CEO Russell Gibbs said it was pleasing to support such an innovative astronomy programme at UWA.

“At Hawaiian we have a philosophy of uniting business and people, which is delivered through business collaboration and community partnerships.  We believe in supporting young people living in Western Australia and I’m sure there is much to be gained from this exciting new telescope.”

Technical details

SPIRIT II (sister to SPIRIT I) will be a 0.4m corrected Dall-Kirkham design telescope. Though the CCD camera is yet to be finalised, it will likely provide about a half a degree FOV with somewhere between 1 and 2 arc seconds per pixel resolution. A matching filter wheel will provide both photometric and astrophotographic filter options.

The instrument will be housed in an automated Sirius Observatory, adjacent to SPIRIT I at The University of Western Australia

The system is fully automated, and available to WA students via the Internet using nothing more than a browser. This novel project provides multiple modes of operation—from a fully hands on experience where students literally get to “drive” the telescope in real time via the internet, to multi-client scheduling and data collection for research and survey work (clients submit observation requests which are processed automatically).

“Currently we (SPICE) have provided professional development and resources to about 50 teachers in WA, with more planned in the coming months,” Mr Luckas said. “Within that population, approximately 100 students and groups have accessed SPIRIT I on-line.”

SPIRIT is a joint SPICE, Physics and ICRAR (International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research) project, hosted at The University of Western Australia.

Adapted from information issued by UWA.

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Million-dollar boost for Aussie telescope

Dome of the 2.3-metre telescope at SSO

The ANU's 2.3-metre telescope at Siding Spring Observatory in New South Wales. A million-dollar upgrade is underway.

A MILLION DOLLAR UPGRADE of one of Australia’s longest serving telescopes has just begun at Siding Spring Observatory near Coonabarabran in New South Wales, involving the four principal designers who worked on the project when it began at Mt Stromlo in Canberra in the early 1980s.

Dr Gary Hovey from the Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics at The Australian National University has been dragged out of retirement to play a major part in the upgrade of the 2.3-metre telescope along with 87-year-old mechanical engineer Herman Wehner.

“The four of us have periodically worked on the telescope for 30 years but we haven’t worked together as a design team since the early 1990s,” he said.

“For most of us, building the 2.3 metre telescope was the major and formative experience of our careers so it is gratifying to see that ‘the old workhorse’ is still able to make a contribution to modern astronomical research.”

“The last decade has seen a marked degradation of the fabric of the building, frequent electronic damage from lightning strikes and increasing problems with the procurement of spares,” Dr Hovey added.

“The proposed refurbishment will address these issues and will ensure that the 2.3 metre telescope functions well as a remotely controlled observing facility for all Australian astronomers.”

ANU 2.3-metre telescope

The ANU's 2.3-metre telescope

Major upgrade

The two-year overhaul will involve substantial reconditioning of the mechanical and electronic systems of the telescope and the co-rotating building, which serves as a dome, as well as fixing the building cladding and redesigning the ventilation system.

The other members of the original design team involved are John Hart and Jan van Harmelen. They will be working with the past and current maintenance engineers at Siding Spring Observatory, Malcolm Harris and Geoff White, managed by Liam Waldron.

“Although telescopes such as the 2.3-metre seem small in comparison to the behemoths now being built overseas, they can play a vital role in defining the frontiers of research and in the training of post-graduate students,” Dr Hovey said.

“If the promise of high performance instruments such as the new Wide Field Spectrograph is to be realised, then it is essential that the performance and reliability of the telescope be secured for another decade.”

Adapted from information issued by ANU.

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Satellites needed for NBN

Artist's impression of an Optus satellite in orbit

With Australia's increasing reliance on space technology, including the NBN, there is a need for 2 or 3 extra satellites.

  • Australia is heavily reliant on space technology
  • 2 or 3 extra satellites will be needed to provide services

WHEN WE THINK OF SPACE, most of us think of rockets and robots and, whether or not we realise it, these and other space technologies form a fundamental part of our lives.

With Australia’s investment in new communications satellites as part of creating the National Broadband Network (NBN), it is more important than ever to understand the benefits of space technology.

Dr Rosalind Dubs, Chair of the Australian Government’s Space Industry Innovation Council, stresses the importance of driving productivity and innovation through space technologies.

“It’s estimated the global space market will be worth one trillion dollars by 2020,” Dr Dubs said. “If Australian companies can capture just a few percent of this business, this would represent a worthwhile contribution to the national economy, strengthen national self-reliance and deliver broader spin-off benefits.”

Dr Dubs said while most of the NBN’s high speed internet will be delivered by fibre optic cables, 3 to 4 per cent of Australians live in regional areas where this would be prohibitively expensive. Two to three satellites will be acquired to provide high-speed internet services (around 12 Mbps) where the fibre optic cables or wireless will not reach.

These new satellites will make the NBN an important milestone in Australia’s space infrastructure. They are expected to provide opportunities for the development of Australian space capabilities and downstream applications.

Space provides value for money

“International experience suggests that every $1 million invested in space-borne capability results in around $6 million of downstream services application revenue,” Dr Dubs said. “For example, think of the many GPS-receiver and accurate positioning-related businesses that have grown out of the US Global Positioning System.”

Australia from space

The space sector is likely to become crucial for Australia in the coming decade.

Australians in remote areas will reap huge benefits from the NBN’s satellites, but satellite technology can also improve city dwellers’ mobile internet, phone and television services, and improve the ability for navigation devices to receive GPS signals in high rise cities where some satellites are out of view.

Beyond these day-to-day benefits, satellites collect data about weather, climate, oceans, land, geology, ecosystems, and natural and human-induced hazards.

“Integrating this data into real-world applications is essential if we are to effectively manage our planet and its resources, particularly as we tackle natural disasters and climate change,” Dr Dubs said.

Crucial for Australia

Satellites provide us with infrastructure that can improve our quality of life and increase our knowledge of the world around us. But to do so, both government and commercial organisations must invest in building expertise, strengthening capabilities, and developing real, practical applications for satellite data. The payoff will be worthwhile.

“Space capability is much like IT. It is an enabling technology that will lead to productivity increases,” Dr Dubs said. “The Australian Government has recognised that more active involvement in the space sector is likely to become crucial for Australia in the coming decade, not just for defence and national security reasons, but because everyday life depends more and more on satellite services.”

To find out more about Australia’s space-related activities or the Space Industry Innovation Council, visit

Adapted from information issued by SIIC.

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