CSIRO opens Australian SKA Pathfinder radio telescope

The CSIRO has completed its Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder and opened the Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory.

The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) has opened up its latest radio telescope near Geraldton, Western Australia, called the Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder (ASKAP), which forms part of the overall Square Kilometre Array project (SKA).

The Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Science and Research Senator Chris Evans launched the new radio telescope this afternoon and opened the Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory (MRO) on which ASKAP's 36 dishes sit.

"We will understand how galaxies work. We will look back into the very birth of our own universe," said CSIRO Chief Executive Dr Megan Clark.

"We're not just looking at the stars, we're not just looking at the galaxies. With this facility, we'll actually be able to look between the stars. We'll be able to look at the magnetic fields. We'll be able to look at the events that happened in just a few seconds that, for the first time, we'll be able to record and there's no question; we'll record things that right now we don't even know exist."

Four of the 36 dishes that make up ASKAP. (Credit: Ant Schinckel, CSIRO)

Evans also addressed the recent decision by the SKA Organisation to award a dual-site status to Australia and South Africa, although Australia was previously keen to host the larger SKA project alone.

"We were very competitive with South Africa in bidding for the site, but I think we've all realised that the decision to award dual-site status actually strengthens the project [and] allows us to leverage off the best capabilities of both countries, and we look forward to working with South Africa in making this a hugely successful project," Evans said.

The opening of ASKAP also marks the formal beginning of the first of three phases of the larger AU$2.5 billion SKA project, which will consist of 60 dishes spread across South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. The first phase is expected to be completed between 2016 and 2019, and consists of the majority of work required for the SKA to be able to take its first astronomical image. Final completion of the SKA project is expected to occur in 2024.

According to the SKA Organisation, once completed, the SKA will be sensitive enough that it should be able to detect an airport radar on a planet located 50 light years away.

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