Australia's Science Minister visits SKA site

3 August 2017

On Wednesday 2 August 2017 the Australian Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science, Senator The Hon Arthur Sinodinos AO, led a delegation to the Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory (MRO), a future site of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) 350 km north east of Geraldton in Western Australia. The Minister was joined by The Hon Dave Kelly BA MLA, Western Australian Minister for Science, Dr Larry Marshall, Chief Executive of CSIRO, and other executives and scientists.

The guests arrived at Boolardy Station on a sunny but chilly morning and were given a Welcome to Country by Anthony Dann and Edward Ryan from the Wajarri Yamaji.

  

Minister Sinodinos greeting Anthony Dann, who gave the Welcome to Country.

The delegation then visited the MRO some 40 minutes’ drive away, which already hosts two world-class radio telescopes.

First on the list was the Australian SKA Pathfinder (ASKAP) telescope, which consists of 36 dishes, each 12 metres in diameter, working together as a single instrument. They have sophisticated ‘phased array feed’ receivers which allow the telescope to capture radio images with unprecedented sensitivity over large areas of sky. The Ministers had the opportunity to control the dish and point it at different sections of the sky. 

 

 

 

The ASKAP dishes, 36 of which are spaced throughout the Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory

The Murchison Widefield Array (MWA) radio telescope is located a short drive from ASKAP, and the party was given a tour of some of the 2048 spider-like antennas which are spread out in clusters over the site.


The delegation is given an introduction to the MWA antennas by Dr Randall Wayth of Curtin University

Finally, the delegation visited the SKA Low test antennas at the site. These distinctive, Christmas tree-like antennas form the Aperture Array Verification System. They are essentially a test-bed for the development of the antennas which will be used in the low-frequency SKA telescope in Australia.


An array of the Apeture Array Verification system antennas, a test-bed for the future Australian low-frequency SKA telescope.

The instrumentation on-site wouldn’t function without electricity, and the group had the opportunity to visit the on-site power station which keeps the radio-astronomy instruments and associated equipment at the MRO running. The station makes use of an abundant resource in the Australian desert – the sun – with 5000 photovoltaic panels connected to the largest battery of its kind in Australia.

 
 

The photovoltaic array consists of 5000 individual panels.

During the tour the group also saw the server room inside the MRO Control Building, and were shown some of the components used in the facility. The huge amounts of data generated by the telescopes at the MRO are sent through the Control Building and via Geraldton to the Pawsey Supercomputing Centre in Perth. Minister Sinodinos and a number of the guests had visited the Supercomputing Centre the previous Monday, 31 July 2017. On their tour they were briefed on the challenges facing Australia’s High Performance Computing (HPC) infrastructure in the coming years.

 


Minister Sinodinos and Dr Larry Marshall, Chief Executive of CSIRO, with Antony Schinckel inside the MRO Control Building.


 

Minister Sinodinos on a tour of the Pawsey Supercomputing Centre in Perth on 31 July 2017, guided by Dr Neil Stringfellow.

 

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