Solar storms, space junk and the formation of the Universe are about to be seen in an entirely new way with the start of operations today by the $51 million Murchison Widefield Array (MWA) radio telescope.
The first of three international precursors to the $2 billion Square Kilometre Array (SKA) telescope, the MWA is located in a remote pocket of outback Western Australia. It is the result of an international project led by Curtin University and was officially turned on by Australia’s Science and Research Minister, Senator Kim Carr.
AARNet and CSIRO have collaborated to deliver a transmission network for the MWA. The network is installed on fibre optic infrastructure constructed by AARNet for the CSIRO and by Nextgen Networks for the federal government-funded Regional Backbone Blackspots Program.
Using bleeding edge technology, the MWA will become an eye on the sky, acting as an early warning system that will potentially help to save billions of dollars as it steps up observations of the Sun to detect and monitor massive solar storms. It will also investigate a unique concept which will see stray FM radio signals used to track dangerous space debris.
The detailed observations will be used by scientists to hunt for explosive and variable objects in the Milky Way such as black holes and exploding stars, as well as to create the most comprehensive survey of the Southern Hemisphere sky at low radio frequencies.
From today, regular data will be captured through the entirely static telescope which spans a three kilometre area at the CSIRO’s Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory, future home to the SKA.
AARNet is providing the network services for the transmission of the data between the MWA sensors and the Pawsey High Performance Computing Centre for SKA Science, located 800kms away in Perth.
John Nicholls, AARNet’s Infrastructure Development Manager said “AARNet is providing a network that’s scalable to support the needs of the MWA now and into future early phases of the SKA”.
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