The Governor controlling the Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder (ASKAP)

Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder (ASKAP)

9 Sep, 2020

Square Kilometre Array: WA’s ground-breaking low-frequency radio telescope

The Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory (MRO) is the location of CSIRO’s Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder (ASKAP) project and a number of other innovative radio astronomy projects including the Murchison Widefield Array (MWA). The MRO is approximately 370km from Geraldton and is centred on Boolardy Station, a pastoral grazing property.

The Governor traveled to Boolardy Station on Wednesday, 9th September and was greeted by Mr Kevin Ferguson, Head of WA Operations, CSIRO Astronomy and Space Science; Ms Rebecca Wheadon, MRO Site Entity Leader, CSIRO Astronomy and Space Science; Mr Brett Hiscock: MRO Site Leader, CSIRO Astronomy and Space Science; and Professor Melanie Johnston-Hollitt, Director of the Murchison Widefield Array (MWA).

The Governor with Kevin Ferguson: WA Operations Manager, CSIRO Astronomy and Space Science, Rebecca Wheadon: MRO Site Entity Leader, CSIRO Astronomy and Space Science

The Governor with Kevin Ferguson, Head of WA Operations, CSIRO Astronomy and Space Science and Rebecca Wheadon, MRO Site Entity Leader, CSIRO Astronomy and Space Science

After an update on how the site managed their operations during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Governor and CSIRO team drove 45 minutes out to the MRO to view the ASKAP and MWA. Along the drive, several Wajarri Yamatji sacred sites were pointed out that are protected under the Indigenous Land Use Agreements (ILUA). The Wajarri Yamatji are the traditional owners of the MRO site.

Aboriginal sacred site

Sacred Wajarri Yamatji site

Made up of 36 antennas working together as a single instrument, the CSIRO’s newest radio telescope – the Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder, or ASKAP – will capture radio images of the sky in more detail and faster than ever before. It will allow astronomers to answer fundamental questions about our Universe, such as the nature of cosmic magnetism and the evolution and formation of galaxies.

Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder (ASKAP)

Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder (ASKAP)

The Square Kilometre Array (SKA) is a global science and engineering project to build the world’s largest radio telescope. In May 2012, the SKA Organisation announced that the SKA will be located across two main sites: the CSIRO-run Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory and surrounding Australian Radio-Quiet Zone (WA), and southern Africa.

Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder (ASKAP)

Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder (ASKAP)

The Governor was then taken to see the control building. Inside this reinforced steel building is where a group of electricians and engineers like Mr Kurt Warhurst – Control System Engineer for ASKAP work on the project. The reason for the reinforced steel walls is to maintain the necessary Radio-Quiet Zone and prevents terrestrial radio interference to the sensitive equipment. One of the engineers explained how the components of the array work together.

CSIRO Control Centre

CSIRO Control Centre

Inside the CSIRO Server Room the Governor learned that every month the MWA generates more than a petabyte of data – equivalent to 2000,000 DVD’s.

CSIRO Control Centre - Server Room

CSIRO Control Centre – Server Room

The Governor’s final destination was to the MWA. This is a low-frequency radio telescope. The front-end of the MWA consists of 4,096 spider-like antennas arranged in 256 regular grids called ‘tiles’, spread over several kilometres within the MRO.

Murchison Widefield Array (MWA)

Murchison Widefield Array (MWA)

Data from the antennas is correlated onsite before being transmitted to the Pawsey Supercomputing Centre for long-term storage. The back-end of the telescope is an online platform: the MWA node of the All Sky Virtual Observatory (MWA-ASVO), through which scientists access calibrated MWA data.

Murchison Widefield Array (MWA)

Low Frequency Aperture Array (LFAA), antenna test bed for the SKA-Low telescope

The MWA’s unprecedented capabilities also underpin its critical role as the “low-frequency precursor’ instrument of the SKA project. Currently in development, the SKA will be the world’s largest radio telescope, designed to solve the deepest mysteries of the universe.

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