The AU$51 million Murchison Widefield Array (MWA) radio telescope in the remote outback of Western Australia has been launched, boosting the nation's rapidly advancing radio-astronomy capabilities.
The low-frequency radio telescope at the Murchison Radio-Astronomy Observatory (MRO), about 315km northeast of Geraldton, is a key precursor to the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) project, which will be the largest and most capable radio telescope ever made.
The SKA will provide scientists with the farthest peek into the universe, and, therefore, time.
That AU$2 billion project will comprise 3,000 dishes spanning South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand, funded by a consortium of 20 nations.
Special Minister of State Gary Gray said that the MWA is one of three precursors to the SKA.
"It is the only one that will focus on the collection of low-frequency radio waves, which will enable scientists, for the first time, to understand how the universe has evolved since the big bang," Gray said.
He said that the MWA involved eight years of work between a consortium of 13 research institutes from Australia, India, New Zealand, and the United States, led by WA's Curtin University.
IBM and Cisco supplied hardware to collect the data that is sent over fibre from the array to the AU$80 million Pawsey HPC Centre in Perth, 700km away.
For the purposes of the project, 16km of fibre and 42km of coaxial cable has been laid by hand.
When the telescope is operating at full capacity, it will produce 4GB of data every 10 seconds.
WA Science and Innovation Minister John Day said that the MWA would be the first of the three SKA precursor projects to be fully operational, with observations set to commence early next year.
The CSIRO's (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation) ground-breaking, 36-dish Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder (ASKAP) radio telescope, also at the Murchison Radio-Astronomy Observatory, was officially launched last month.
The state government is ensuring that large tracts of mid-west land are kept free of heavy industry to ensure radio quietness for the projects.
Josh Taylor contributed to this article.