MWA radio telescope begins watching the skies

$51 million project will detect solar storms and identify space junk

Night sky at the Murchison Widefield Array (MWA) site in Western Australia.  Photo by John Goldsmith.

Night sky at the Murchison Widefield Array (MWA) site in Western Australia. Photo by John Goldsmith.

The Murchison Widefield Array (MWA) radio telescope in Western Australia will act as an early warning system for solar storms as it begins observations of the sun today.

The $51 million telescope correlator will also identify space junk by using bouncing FM radio waves and study radio waves that are more than 13 billion years old. This will help scientists study the first billion years of the universe.

In addition, the observations will be used by scientists to hunt for objects in the Milky Way such as black holes and exploding stars, as well as create a survey of the Southern Hemisphere sky at low radio frequencies.

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MWA director and Curtin University professor of radio astronomy, Steven Tingay, said that the project was at the “frontier” of astronomical science.

“Each of these programs has the potential to change our understanding about the Universe,” he said in a statement.

Regular data will be captured through the entirely static telescope which spans a three kilometre area at the CSIRO’s Murchison radioastronomy observatory.

The data will be processed 800 kilometres away at the $80 million Pawsey High Performance Computing Centre for SKA Science in Perth, carried there on a fibre link built as part of the federal government's Regional Backbone Blackspots Program and enabled by the Australian Academic and Research Network (AARNet). The MWA will be the Pawsey Centre’s first large-scale customer.

The MWA project is an international collaboration between 13 universities across Australia, India, New Zealand and the United States to construct a low frequency radio telescope as a precursor to the Square Kilometre Array (SKA), the world’s largest radio telescope. MWA was led by Curtin University.

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