First signal received by future telescope

Mar 03, 2010
First signal received by future telescope
Artist's impression of ASKAP at the Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory. (Swinburne Astronomy Productions. Design data, CSIRO)

An historic milestone was reached recently in Australia's bid to host the Square Kilometre Array telescope - a future international radio telescope that will be the world's largest and most sensitive.

The first antenna to be assembled as part of the Australia Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder (ASKAP) , an important precursor to the Square Kilometre Array, has received its first radio signals.

"ASKAP's progress to date shows that our goals, although ambitious, are achievable," said CSIRO's SKA Director, Professor Brian Boyle.

"The journey to a thousand SKA dishes begins with a single photon."

The first of 36 identical 12-metre dishes that will make up the ASKAP telescope, the antenna was assembled over the Australian summer at the Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory in the Mid West region of Western Australia.

The first radio signals were received from a satellite and were part of a project to measure the shape of the antenna's surface using holography.

This involves combining a satellite test signal reflected from the antenna's surface with the same signal received by a small 'reference' dish, producing an image that shows if the antenna's surface deviates from the 'perfect' shape.

"It's a great moment - the first time a telescope receives light or - is always very satisfying and exciting. It means the project is firmly on track," CSIRO ASKAP Project Director Dr David DeBoer said.

"The test results show that the antenna is working beautifully, beyond specifications."

The first ASKAP antenna - 12m in diameter and 18m high - has an extremely innovative design, having three moving axes (altitude, azimuth and polarisation) whereby the entire dish rotates in unison with the sky. This unusual feature enables very sensitive images of the sky to be observed with the antenna's phased array receiver or "radio camera", making the processing of the signals much simpler than with conventional designs.

"We have arrived at this point thanks to tremendous efforts by the construction teams which erected the antenna through the heat of summer, and the team supporting the holographic testing," Dr DeBoer said.

Construction of ASKAP's next five antennas will proceed quickly with the first six antennas due to be operational by 2011 and the complete ASKAP system is expected to be completed by 2013.

Comprehensive site-acceptance testing of the antenna will be completed over the next few weeks. Additional CSIRO-made components, including feeds, receivers and data processing systems, will also be installed on the antenna's structure.

Once built, ASKAP will be operated by CSIRO's Astronomy and Space Science division which provides radio-astronomy facilities for use by Australian and international scientists. ASKAP will allow astronomers to answer questions about cosmic magnetism, and the evolution and formation of galaxies, and to assist in the discovery of pulsars and possibly gravitational waves.

Explore further: Finding hints of gravitational waves in the stars

Provided by CSIRO Australia

4.2 /5 (13 votes)
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Astronomers reveal a 'blue whale of space'

Jul 07, 2009

CSIRO astronomers have revealed the hidden face of an enormous galaxy called Centaurus A, which emits a radio glow covering an area 200 times bigger than the full Moon.

ALMA telescope reaches new heights

Sep 23, 2009

The ALMA (Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array) astronomical observatory took another step forward and upward, as one of its state-of-the-art antennas was carried for the first time to Chile's 16,500-foot-high ...

Recommended for you

Gravitational waves according to Planck

1 hour ago

Scientists of the Planck collaboration, and in particular the Trieste team, have conducted a series of in-depth checks on the discovery recently publicized by the Antarctic Observatory, which announced last spring that it ...

Infant solar system shows signs of windy weather

1 hour ago

Astronomers using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) have observed what may be the first-ever signs of windy weather around a T Tauri star, an infant analog of our own Sun. This may help ...

Finding hints of gravitational waves in the stars

7 hours ago

Scientists have shown how gravitational waves—invisible ripples in the fabric of space and time that propagate through the universe—might be "seen" by looking at the stars. The new model proposes that ...

How gamma ray telescopes work

8 hours ago

Yesterday I talked about the detection of gamma ray bursts, intense blasts of gamma rays that occasionally appear in distant galaxies. Gamma ray bursts were only detected when gamma ray satellites were put ...

The frequency of high-energy gamma ray bursts

10 hours ago

In the 1960s a series of satellites were built as part of Project Vela.  Project Vela was intended to detect violations of the 1963 ban on above ground testing of nuclear weapons.  The Vela satellites were ...

User comments : 0