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More funding for Aus-NZ Super Scope bid

Artist's impression of dishes that will make up the SKA radio telescope.

Artist's impression of dishes that will make up the SKA radio telescope.

THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT WILL PROVIDE an extra $40.2 million over four years to support Australia’s bid to host the Square Kilometre Array (SKA), in partnership with New Zealand.

The SKA will be the largest and most advanced radio telescope ever constructed. It will consist of thousands of antennae, spread out across a continent and connected by a fibre-optic network, with the data it generates processed by a powerful supercomputer.

Australia is an ideal candidate to host the SKA, thanks to the data and speed capabilities of the National Broadband Network, our large tracts of radio-quiet land and our research strengths in astronomy, the physical sciences and ICT.

Australia’s joint bid with New Zealand is one of two short-listed to host the SKA, with a final decision on the site expected early in 2012.

This funding will assist Australia’s bid and support pre-construction design and development work if the bid is successful.

Attracting global investment in this massive technologically advanced project to Australia will generate spin-off returns for business.

Researchers and engineers from the world’s leading institutions will work together on the SKA, developing the next generation technologies the project will demand. In turn, Australia’s research community will build their skills and expand their networks.

They can use those same capabilities to create cutting-edge products for consumers in computing, in renewable energy and in communications.

By the end of 2011 the SKA programme will be ready to transition to the detailed design and pre-construction engineering phase.

Adapted from information issued by the office of Senator the Hon Kim Carr. Images courtesy SPDO.

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Super Science with the SKA

THE SQUARE KILOMETRE ARRAY (SKA) will be a new generation radio telescope 50 times more powerful than current instruments. It will be built in the Southern Hemisphere, either in Africa or Australia-New Zealand where the view of the Galaxy is the best and there is little radio interference.

An international project involving some 20 countries, the SKA will be one of the largest and most ambitious science projects ever devised. It has an estimated construction cost of €1.5 billion and a total cost of €9 billion ($13 billion) over its expected 50-year lifetime.

In this video, Professor Peter Quinn, Director of the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR) in Perth, Western Australia; Dr Brian Boyle, Australasian SKA Director; and other leaders in Australian astronomy, explain why they’re so excited about the SKA.

The decision on whether the joint Australia-New Zealand bid will host the SKA is expected in 2012.

More information:

ICRAR

SKA

CSIRO Astronomy & Space Sciences

Adapted from information issued by ICRAR / NASA.

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Astronomy linking Australia and Asia

Australia from space

New radio telescopes are being brought online in India, China, Japan and Korea.

THE LATEST ADVANCES and scientific benefits of the Very Long Baseline Interferometry (VLBI) will be discussed by radio astronomy researchers from the Asia-Oceania region in Perth tomorrow (Wednesday, 3 May 2011).

VLBI connects radio telescopes hundreds to thousands of kilometres apart, creating a telescope the size of a continent. With such a telescope, the sky can be viewed in amazing detail, with a resolution of a millionth of a degree.

About 40 researchers from 16 organisations will attend the Advances in Asia and Oceania Toward Very Long Baseline Interferometry in the Age of the Square Kilometre Array, held at the Perth Zoo from 4-6 May.

Professor Steven Tingay, ICRAR Deputy Director, said rapid and impressive advances in VLBI were taking place throughout Asia and Oceania.

Artist's impression of SKA radio astronomy dishes

Artist's impression of SKA radio astronomy dishes

“With the high level of technical expertise in the region and new radio telescopes being brought online in India, China, Japan and Korea, it is timely to come together and discuss VLBI and the Square Kilometre Array (SKA),” Professor Tingay said.

Participants will discuss VLBI projects throughout Asia and Oceania as well as what scientific benefits the SKA can provide for the region. The techniques behind VLBI are exactly the same as will be used for the SKA.

When complete, the SKA will be the largest radio astronomy instrument ever constructed and may be situated in the Asia/Oceania region if the Australia and New Zealand bid is successful.

The workshop is sponsored by the Federal Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research, the New Zealand Ministry of Economic Development, CSIRO and the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research.

ICRAR is a joint venture between Curtin University and The University of Western Australia providing research excellence in the field of radio astronomy.

Adapted from information issued by Curtin University. Earth images courtesy NASA.

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Super-scope to answer five key questions

THIS FANTASTIC SHORT VIDEO gives us a taste of what’s to come once the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) telescope network is up and running next decade.

Comprising thousands of individual antennae spread out across a continental-sized region, the SKA will be hosted either by Australia-New Zealand or South Africa…the decision will be made in 2012.

Adapted from information issued by SPDO / Swinburne Astronomy Productions.

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Data deluge for astronomers

Artist's impression of the LSST

The proposed Large Synoptic Survey Telescope will survey the entire visible sky every week from a mountaintop in Chile.

THE STEREOTYPICAL ASTRONOMER of yesteryear was a patient soul, endlessly gazing skywards searching for a faint glimmer that might lead to a discovery.

But for the astronomers of tomorrow this couldn’t be further from the truth.

Super-sized telescopes currently under development around the world like the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) radio telescope, the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) and the Murchison Widefield Array (MWA), will be so sensitive that information from the rest of the Universe will literally pour from the sky.

Once these data-intensive telescopic beasts come online the challenge for astronomers will no longer be to find the needle in the haystack, but to remove the hay from the pile of needles and choose which are the most likely to further our understanding of the cosmos.

To tackle this data challenge head on, two organisations on opposite sides of the planet have joined forces.

Artist's impression of SKA dishes

Artist's impression of some of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) dishes. The SKA will produce copious amounts of data that will need to be sifted carefully.

The LSST Corporation in the United States and the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR) in Perth, Western Australia have signed an agreement to work together on designing common database systems for optical and radio astronomy and research tools that will enable direct comparisons of objects discovered by these optical and radio telescopes.

“This collaboration will give us a great head start in preparing for the enormous data challenges of the SKA and will allow scientists access to both optical and radio data to probe the Universe across all wavelengths,” said ICRAR Director Prof. Peter Quinn

The LSST was ranked the number one project in the US by the Astronomy and Astrophysics Decadal Survey conducted in 2010.

“Once you have separated the incoming data into sources and objects, it makes little difference to the system if the signal is at optical or radio wavelengths,” said Jeff Kantor, Data Management Project Manager.

“So it makes sense to join forces with ICRAR to find data processing solutions for the enormous databases that will be generated by both of these amazing telescopes.”

Using supercomputers located at the new Pawsey Centre in Perth, ICRAR’s Professor Andreas Wicenec is heading up the international team designing data systems for the SKA radio telescope.

“We expect to detect more than 100 billion objects, which is at least 10 times more than we’ve observed in the last 400 years of astronomy,” said Professor Wicenec. “This represents an immense challenge but potentially huge scientific reward

Adapted from information issued by ICRAR. Images courtesy SPDO / Swinburne Astronomy Productions / Todd Mason, Mason Productions / LSST Corp.

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Supercomputer boosts SKA chances

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

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

RESEARCHERS IN AUSTRALIA and New Zealand have been donated a high performance computing facility by IBM, boosting their chances of a successful bid for the $3 billion Square Kilometre Array (SKA) telescope.

International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR) at Curtin University researchers and counterparts at Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand will use the computing facility to process data from the Murchison Widefield Array (MWA) radio telescope, a precursor instrument for the SKA telescope.

Victoria University radio astronomer Dr Melanie Johnston-Hollitt who chairs the New Zealand SKA Research & Development Consortium says the supercomputer is a massive boost for the MWA.

“New Zealand researchers and students will have the opportunity to contribute directly to the Murchison Widefield Array, the first time we’ve been involved in an official SKA ‘precursor’,” says Dr Johnston-Hollitt.

“This is a significant step forward in New Zealand’s engagement in both radio astronomy and the SKA project and we are grateful to IBM for their support.”

Real-time view of the early cosmos

The SKA will be a new generation radio telescope 50 times more powerful than current instruments. It will be built in the Southern Hemisphere, either in Africa or Australia-New Zealand where the view of the Galaxy is the best and there is little radio interference.

The decision on whether the joint Australia-New Zealand bid will host the SKA is expected in 2012.

Part of the Murchison Wide-field Array

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.

The MWA is one of three official SKA ‘precursors’, medium scale instruments that will be used to explore and prove important technologies for the SKA. The MWA is the only SKA Precursor that operates at low radio frequencies.

The $30m MWA radio telescope—currently under construction at the heart of the Australia-New Zealand SKA site in Western Australia, the Murchison Radioastronomy Observatory—is designed to probe the formation of the first stars and galaxies in the Universe, looking back billions of years in time to the so-called Epoch of Reionisation.

The IBM facility will help the MWA process data in real-time, forming images of the sky that will be used to measure the signals of interest.

Tasman ties in astronomy

Professor Steven Tingay, ICRAR Deputy Director, sees the links between Australia and New Zealand getting stronger in radio astronomy.

“This work builds on existing links between Australia and New Zealand in radio astronomy and the IBM facility will be a vital component of the MWA system. It will allow data from MWA to be processed which in turn will allow us to make new discoveries about the Universe. We’re delighted to be working with colleagues in New Zealand and IBM on this critical sub-system for the MWA.”

Chief Technologist of IBM New Zealand, and co-chair of the NZ SKA Industry Consortium (NZSKAIC) Dougal Watt, says, “This award is an important contribution by IBM towards research and development for SKA, one of the four biggest science projects of the century. IBM is excited to be working with the MWA project to understand and solve some key challenges these next-generation science instruments will generate.”

Dr Johnston-Hollitt sees the future of such collaborations between international researchers and industry to be fundamental to large international projects like the SKA.

“The way big research is being done is via collaboration between international teams of researchers from academia and industry and the SUR grant for New Zealand researchers for MWA epitomises this new approach. I hope this is the start of a fruitful collaboration between Victoria, the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research and IBM.”

ICRAR/Curtin University and Victoria University in Wellington were donated the facility as part of an IBM Shared University Research grant.

Artist's impression of an ASKAP dish

Artist's impression of an ASKAP dish

Australian-German collaboration

In other news, a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to foster collaboration between the Fraunhofer Institute of Solar Energy (Fraunhofer), Max Plank Institute for Radio Astronomy (MPIfR) and CSIRO Astronomy and Space Science (CASS) was signed on April 7, 2011.

The MoU was signed in Berlin, Germany during a workshop on “Renewable Energy Concepts for Mega-Science Projects demonstrated by the SKA and its Pathfinders”.

A key focus of the MoU is to promote scientific and research co-operation in renewable energy capture, storage and management for the SKA between Australia and experts from Germany and the rest of the world.

The MOU also looks to advance collaboration between Fraunhofer ISE, Max Plank Institute for Radio Astronomy and CSIRO on the development of renewable energy systems for the Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory (MRO) and the Australian SKA Pathfinder (ASKAP) instrument as an SKA precursor facility.

MRO and ASKAP are located hundreds of kilometres inland from Geraldton in Western Australia. Consequently, access to reliable power is a major issue.

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

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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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Leaders praise Aus-NZ SKA bid

PRIME MINISTERS Julia Gillard and John Key praised the joint SKA bid during recent talks in New Zealand.

The Prime Ministers reaffirmed their countries’ strong ties during recent talks in New Zealand, where they met to sign a trade agreement to promote closer economic relations between the two countries.

During the talks, Prime Ministers Key and Gillard praised the Australian and New Zealand SKA (anzSKA) bid to host the SKA which is seen as a good example of strong trans-Tasman economic and social ties.

Map of potential SKA stations in Australia and New Zealand

If Australia and New Zealand win the bid to host the Square Kilometre Array, antennae will be spread across the two countries.

“Our joint determination to bring the multibillion-dollar Square Kilometre Array radio-telescope project to this part of the world is a great example of how working together strengthens our position internationally,” The Prime Ministers wrote.

The comments have bolstered Australian and New Zealand astronomers who are already working closely together after the successful link up of six radio telescopes across the Tasman Sea.

The linked telescopes will make images ten times more detailed than those of the Hubble Space Telescope and has already been used to generate unparalleled images of nearby galaxy Centaurus A.

Adapted from information issued by www.ska.gov.au. Image courtesy CSIRO. Video courtesy www.skatelescope.org

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Square Kilometre Array is coming

THE SQUARE KILOMETRE ARRAY (SKA) will be a huge network of radio telescope antennae, all working in concert to provide unprecedentedly precise and sensitive views of the universe.

Able to see from the present day almost all the way to the Big Bang, and everything in between, it will answer fundamental questions about the origin of stars, galaxies and planetary systems.

Comprising thousands of separate antennae, connected electronically to form one large antenna thousands of kilometres wide, the SKA will have to be built on a large patch of real estate. Two regions are competing for the “hosting” rights—a joint Australia–New Zealand bid, and a bid comprising a number of southern African countries.

It is expected the decision about where the SKA is to be built will be made in 2012.

Related stories:

The Square Kilometre Array

Aussies and Kiwis forge cosmic connection

World’s biggest telescope – the Aussie bid

Video animation produced by Swinburne Astronomy Productions.

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Aussie astronomy supercomputer in Top 100

Photo of POD in-situ at iVEC@Murdoch.

The POD supercomputer at the iVEC computing centre at Murdoch University. It has been ranked at number 87 in the world league table of supercomputers.

  • First stage of supercomputer ranks number 87 in the world
  • When finished it will be 15 times faster still
  • Will support advanced research using the Square Kilometre Array telescope

Western Australia has entered the prestigious ranks of the top 100 supercomputers on the planet, thanks to the installation of a Performance Optimised Data Centre (POD) at iVEC’s Murdoch facility.

iVEC is an advanced computer centre in Perth. It is a joint venture between CSIRO, Curtin University of Technology, Edith Cowan University, Murdoch University and The University of Western Australia and is supported by the Western Australian Government.

A global gauge of the world’s most powerful supercomputers, the prestigious Top 500 List has embraced the Hewlett- Packard (HP)-developed POD, which takes its place at number 87 following its delivery to iVEC@Murdoch.

Only one other Australian supercomputer ranks above the POD in the Top 500 list, with the National Computational Infrastructure facility in Canberra coming in at #51.

The POD is Stage 1A of the $80M Pawsey Centre project, commissioned under the Commonwealth government’s $1.1 billion Super Science Initiative to establish a petascale supercomputing facility.

Artist's impression of the SKA

Artist's impression of the core of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) telescope network. It will be one the largest scientific facilities ever made.

The Pawsey Centre was established with the primary role of hosting new high performance computing facilities and expertise to support SKA (Square Kilometre Array) research and other high-end science.

The SKA will be a huge network of radio telescope antennae, and will be one of the world’s largest scientific facilities. Two regions are bidding for the rights to host the facility: a joint Australia-New Zealand big, and a consortium of countries in southern Africa.

The secondary goal of the Pawsey Centre is to demonstrate Australia’s ability to deliver and support world-class advanced ICT infrastructure and therefore strengthen Australia’s bid to host the SKA, which is critically dependant on advanced ICT.

When complete in early 2013, the final Pawsey Centre’s facilities are expected to operate up to 15 times faster than the POD, and will eventually see it climb to the top echelon of the world’s supercomputing centres and establish Australia’s commitment to supercomputing.

“Australian scientists are now generating massive amounts of experimental data in computationally demanding areas such as radioastronomy, nanoscience, geoscience and life science,” says iVEC@Murdoch Associate Director, Professor Matthew Bellgard.

Adapted from information issued by iVEC / ICRAR / CSIRO.

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