Skip to main content
15 December, 2020

Australian telescope maps new galaxies

The Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder (ASKAP), developed and operated by Australia’s national science agency CSIRO, has pushed the bounds of surveying the known universe. Approximately 300 million galaxies were mapped in just three hours, including about a million new ones.

CSIRO Chief Executive Dr Larry Marshall said ASKAP brought together world-class infrastructure with scientific and engineering expertise to unlock the deepest secrets of the Universe.

“ASKAP is applying the very latest in science and technology to age-old questions about the mysteries of the Universe and equipping astronomers around the world with new breakthroughs to solve their challenges,” Dr Marshall said.

For the survey, the ASKAP’s CSIRO-designed receivers used phased array feed technology to generate a massive 13.5 exabytes of raw data.

These data were streamed in real time over the AARNet high-speed research network to the Pawsey Supercomputing Centre, 800 kms away in Perth, for processing into 70 million pixels worth of 2D images.

Millions of galaxies mapped

The Rapid ASKAP Continuum Survey is like a Google map of the Universe, and is the first full-scale project for the ASKAP telescope at CSIRO’s Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory (MRO) in outback Western Australia.

Using ASKAP, the survey team observed 83 per cent of the entire sky. Approximately 300 million galaxies were mapped in just 300 hours.

This record-breaking result proves that an all-sky survey can be done in weeks rather than years, opening new opportunities for discovery.

The new data will enable astronomers to undertake statistical analyses of large populations of galaxies, in the same way social researchers use information from a national census.

“This census of the Universe will be used by astronomers around the world to explore the unknown and study everything from star formation to how galaxies and their super-massive black holes evolve and interact,” lead author and CSIRO astronomer Dr David McConnell said.

The results of the survey were published in the Publications of the Astronomical Society of Australia.

The images and catalogues from the survey will be made publicly available through the CSIRO Data Access Portal and hosted at Pawsey.

ASKAP a world leader

Minister for Industry, Science and Technology, Karen Andrews said ASKAP is an example of Australia’s global leadership in radio astronomy.

“ASKAP is a major technological development that puts our scientists, engineers and industry in the driver’s seat to lead deep space discovery for the next generation.

This new survey proves that we are ready to make a giant leap forward in the field of radio astronomy,” Minister Andrews said.

Networking for research

ASKAP’s advanced technologies are providing insights for the development of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA), an international mega-science project to build the world’s largest radio telescopes. CSIRO will host the low-frequency SKA telescope at the MRO.

AARNet and CSIRO engineers collaborated to develop the specialised data transmission networks for the ASKAP and other SKA-precursor telescopes located at the MRO.

The high performance capabilities of the AARNet network help make surveys such as the Rapid ASKAP Continuum Survey possible. Scientists rely on AARNet for connecting the on-site hardware at the MRO with the high-performance computing at Pawsey, where data captured by the telescopes are transformed into images and catalogues that can be used for science.