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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
  • 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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