csiro australian telescope

Telescope maps unseen galaxies in record time

Image credit: reuters

A radio telescope located in the Australian outback has mapped approximately three million galaxies in just 300 hours, the country’s national science agency (CSIRO) has said.

The Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder (ASKAP) carried out a continuum survey to create a map of the universe. Most of the millions of star-like points on the map are distant galaxies, and about a million of these have never been seen before.

CSIRO chief executive Dr Larry Marshall said ASKAP was helping 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,” he said. “It’s all enabled by innovative receivers developed by CSIRO that feature phased array feed technology, which see ASKAP generate more raw data at a faster rate than Australia’s entire internet traffic.”

“In a time when we have access to more data than ever before, ASKAP and the supercomputers that support it are delivering unparalleled insights and wielding the tools that will underpin our data-driven future to make life better for everybody.”

The telescope’s key feature is its wide field of view, generated by new receivers that enable ASKAP to take panoramic pictures of the sky in amazing detail. Using ASKAP at CSIRO’s Murchison Radio-Astronomy Observatory in the Western Australia outback, the survey team observed 83 per cent of the entire sky.

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.

With ASKAP’s advanced receivers, the team only needed to combine 903 images to form the full map of the sky, significantly fewer than the tens of thousands of images needed for earlier all-sky radio surveys conducted by major world telescopes.

“For the first time ASKAP has flexed its full muscles, building a map of the Universe in greater detail than ever before, and at record speed. We expect to find tens of millions of new galaxies in future surveys,” McConnell said.

The 13.5 exabytes of raw data generated by ASKAP were processed using hardware and software custom-built by CSIRO. The Pawsey Supercomputing Centre’s “Galaxy” supercomputer converted the data into 2D radio images containing a total of 70 billion pixels.

The final 903 images and supporting information amount to 26TB of data.

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