Radio Astronomy

New Zealanders have a long tradition of contributing to pioneering radio astronomy projects and in particular to collaborations with Australia. Early NZ radio astronomers include one of the first female radio astronomers, Elizabeth Alexander, who studied the sun at low frequencies in 1945 and Gordon Stanley who, along with Australian John Bolton, pioneered the first use of the sea-cliff interferometer in 1948, first at Dover Heights in Australia and then at Leigh and Piha in New Zealand.

There are currently two radio astronomy research groups in NZ at the Victoria University of Wellington (VUW) and Auckland University of Technology (AUT). Staff and students at VUW are involved in science projects on many of the world's leading radio telescopes including the Giant Metrewave Radio Telescope in India, the Westerbork Synthesis Radio Telescope in the Netherlands, the Australia Telescope Compact Array (ATCA) and both Australian based SKA precursors (ASKAP and the MWA).  In particular, members of the VUW team are involved in several next generation radio surveys including leading positions in EMU, WODAN, POSSUM and VAST.

In 2008 the Institute for Radio Astronomy and Space Research (IRASR) was formed at AUT University, and in 2010, its Warkworth 12m telescope joined a network of telescopes across Australia undertaking Very Long Baseline Interferometry (VLBI). VLBI is a process first developed in the late 1960s which allows networks of radio telescopes, separated by long distances, to be combined in order to make high resolution images of bright sources. Originally the data were recorded at each telescope with an accurate time stamp and then 'correlated' together at a later stage, although high speed networks have now enabled real time correlation (eVLBI). Staff and students at AUT are involved with both VLBI/eVLBI and space geodesy. Staff at AUT are also part of the GASKAP and EMU survey projects.

NZ joined the Murchison Widefield Array (MWA) in 2011 through a combined contribution from the then Ministry of Economic Development (now MBIE), VUW and IBM who provided a Shared University Research Grant through VUW. The MWA is the low frequency precursor to the SKA_LO, the component of the SKA telescope to be hosted in Australia. The MWA is the first SKA precursor to be fully operational (in November 2012). In October 2012 staff and students at VUW commenced MWA data processing on dedicated machines provided by a Capability Build Fund provided by KAREN (now REANNZ). One of the key science projects of the MWA is to observe the Sun at low frequencies, but at vastly better resolution than has previously been undertaken, thus it will improve on the work done by Elizabeth Alexander in NZ nearly 70 years before.




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