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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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Big boost for Aussie astronomy

Artist's impression of ASKAP

Artist's impression of some of the dishes of the Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder, ASKAP, being built in Western Australia. It is a forerunner to the Square Kilometre Array (SKA), which Australian and New Zealand astronomers hope will be built in their two countries.

Australia’s astronomers are celebrating the successful attainment of Federal Government funding for a new research centre, the ARC Centre of Excellence for All-sky Astrophysics, or CAASTRO.

The Government, through the Australian Research Council (ARC), will provide funding of $20.6 million over 7 years. To this will be added $7.5 million provided by the institutions involved.

The Centre’s first Director will be Professor Bryan Gaensler of the University of Sydney; the University will be the administering organisation.

Bryan Gaensler

Professor Bryan Gaensler of the University of Sydney will lead the new research centre

The collaborating and partner organisations are:

  • The University of Western Australia
  • The University of Melbourne
  • Swinburne University of Technology
  • The Australian National University
  • Curtin University of Technology
  • CSIRO
  • Anglo-Australian Observatory
  • Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy
  • Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics
  • California Institute of Technology
  • University of Oxford
  • Durham University
  • University of Arizona
  • University of Toronto
  • Laboratoire de Physique Nucleaire et de Hautes Energies

CAASTRO’s activities will substantially expand Australia’s research capabilities and will make a major contribution to the National Research and Innovation Priorities.

CAASTRO will boost Australia’s outstanding track record as a world leader in astronomy, and will solve fundamental data processing problems that can potentially be applied to communications, medical imaging and remote sensing.

All CAASTRO activities will have a strong focus on training the next generation of scientists, providing a legacy extending well beyond the Centre’s lifetime.

Artist's impression of part of the Square Kilometre Array

Artist's impression of a smallk part of the Square Kilometre Array network of radio antennae

The students mentored by CAASTRO will lead the scientific discoveries made on future wide-field facilities, culminating in the ultimate all-sky telescope, the $2.5 billion Square Kilometre Array (SKA).

The SKA will be one of the world’s largest scientific facilities, with thousands of radio antennae spread over thousands of square kilometres. Two regions are bidding for the right to host the facility: Australia and New Zealand, and southern Africa.

Astronomy super science

In recent years the Federal Government has dramatically boosted spending on Australian astronomy, mostly in the form of the Government’s Super Science programme.

The Government has promised $1.1 billion for critical areas of scientific endeavour, including astronomy, climate change, marine and life sciences, biotechnology and nanotechnology.

In particular, the Super Science focus covers three areas:

  • Space science and astronomy;
  • Marine and climate science; and
  • Future industries.

The infrastructure projects funded under the Super Science Initiative were identified as priorities in the Strategic Roadmap for Australian Research Infrastructure in September 2008.

Super Science support for astronomy and space science includes:

  • A new Australian National Centre of Square Kilometre Array Science in Perth
  • Additional funding for the Australian Astronomical Observatory (AAO), the world’s leading 4-metre optical telescope
  • Funding for an Australian Space Research program and a Space Policy Unit that will provide advice to the Government on national space policy.
  • Funding of 33 Super Science Fellows at a wide range of institutions

Adapted from information issued by ARC / DIISR.

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