2016 SKA News Archive

2016 SKA News Archive

October - December

SKA to Illuminate Mysterious Fast Radio Bursts

22 November 2016

The SKA will be well positioned to cast light on one of the greatest mysteries of radio astronomy. Fast Radio Bursts (FRBs) have puzzled astronomers since the first detection of one at the SKA pathfinder telescope at Parkes in 2001.

They are brief (around 0.1% of the time it takes a human to blink), but very intense, pulses of radio waves that most likely originate from outside the Milky Way. Many potential FRB sources have been suggested; everything from a neutron star colliding with a black hole, to contaminating signals from radio sources on Earth. Some have even speculated that FRBs are signals transmitted by alien civilisations.

Even though only eighteen FRBs have been detected, two recent detections indicate that they should be common. With its ability to observe large parts of the sky at once and rapidly process observational data, the SKA will be able to detect and locate FRBs at an unprecedented rate. You can read more about FRBs and the most recent detection of one here.

The intensity of Fast Radio Burst 150807 at different radio frequencies or colours—red corresponds to lower frequencies and blue to higher frequencies. Credit: V. Ravi/Caltech.
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Australian SKA Fellowships Programme Recipients Announced

2 November 2016

Congratulations to the four recipients of the first round of the Australian SKA Fellowships Programme:

Natasha Hurley-Walker

Attila Popping

Martin Myer

Warren Bax

The recipients will be spending 4 months at the SKA headquarters in the UK where they will contribute to the delivery of the SKA. You can read more about the Fellowships Programme hereWatch this space for future fellowship opportunities.

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MWA Completes Technicolour Radio Survey of the Sky

27 October 2016

The Murchison Widefield Array (MWA) has produced one of the largest radio surveys of the sky ever.

The GaLactic and Extragalactic All-sky MWA, or ‘GLEAM’ survey is a large-scale, high resolution survey of the sky. GLEAM will be used to explore remnants of explosions from ancient stars, the beginning and end of supermassive black holes, and what happens when clusters of galaxies collide. While previous radio surveys have been performed in a narrow frequency band, GLEAM has observed the sky across a much wider band. By viewing such an exceptionally broad spectrum of ‘radio colours’, astronomers will be able to discern and explore new features of the sky.

As well as being an extremely valuable resource for scientists, completion of the GLEAM survey is a big step towards SKA- Low. Lessons learned from the survey will help fine-tune the development of SKA-Low which will be capable of making even deeper observations into the universe. You can read more about the survey here.

A ‘radio colour’ view of the sky above a ‘tile’ of the MWA. Credit: Radio image by Natasha Hurley-Walker (ICRAR/Curtin) and the GLEAM Team. MWA tile and landscape by Dr John Goldsmith / Celestial Visions. 
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CSIRO is Recruiting 

24 October 2016

The CSIRO is looking for an SKA Information Officer. Applications close 9th November 2016. For more information and to apply online click here.

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SKA Telescope is Recruiting

24 October 2016

There are five open positions at the SKA Organisation in Chesire, UK: 

  • Engineering Project Manager: Science Data Processor & Telescope Manager
  • LOW Telescope Engineer
  • MID Telescope Engineer
  • Administrative Assistant
  • Regional Centre Coordinator

Applications close beginning 31st October. For more information and to apply online visit the SKA Telescope site.

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HI4PI Survey Maps the Milky Way

21 October 2016

Astronomers using the SKA Pathfinder Parkes telescope and the Effelsberg 100m Radio Telescope in Germany have produced the most detailed map of neutral hydrogen in the Milky Way to date.

While neutral hydrogen is quite easy to detect, mapping the whole sky is a significant achievement. As well as revealing never before seen structures in the Milky Way and enabling astronomers to explore galaxies at even greater distances, the data produced by the HI4PI project will complement that produced by the SKA, providing astronomers with the clearest picture of the universe yet.

The decade long project has already created quite a buzz in the media. You can read more about it here.

The HI4PI map. Credit: Benjamin Winkel and the HI4PI collaboration.

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The First Pietro Conference: Australian Radio Astronomy in the Era of the SKA

20 October 2016

The First Pietro Baracchi Conference, entitled ‘Italo-Australian Radio Astronomy in the Era of the SKA’ will be held in Perth on 1-4 November 2016. The conference will bring together Italian and Australian researchers from all areas of radio astronomy to boost research collaboration between the countries.

The conference is the first in a series of meetings planned to alternate between Australia and Italy. These meetings illustrate the strong relationship between the Australian and Italian scientific communities, and our collaborative efforts on the SKA.

The conference is named in honour of Pietro Baracchi; an Italian astronomer who immigrated to Australia in the late 1800s. While holding posts at the Melbourne Observatory, Baracchi made a number of notable contributions to astronomy in Australia. These included the observation of solar eclipses and southern nebulae, and a major contribution to the Astrographic Catalogue 1900 - known at the time as one of the largest international science projects ever undertaken.

Read more about the conference here.

Pietro Baracchi
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SKA Puts its Stamp on History

7 October 2016 

The Netherlands have issued a new stamp series immortalising the Murchison Radio Astronomy Observatory, the Australian SKA Pathfinder telescope and the soon to be constructed SKA-Low array.

The stamp series is part of a celebration of the 400 year relationship between Australia and the Netherlands, and our shared history of exploration, emigration and research - a history that continues through collaboration on the SKA.

You can read more about the stamp series here.

The new stamp sheet from The Netherlands. Credit: PostNL
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Collapsed - July - September

 Australian Technology Used in FAST Telescope

27 September 2016 

FAST - the largest filled single-dish telescope in the world, located in the southwestern province of Guizhou, China, began operation on Sunday, and it relies on a piece of technology developed in Western Australia.

The technology, developed jointly by the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research in Perth and the European Southern Observatory, is a software system called the Next Generation Archive System (NGAS). It will help collect, store and transport the huge amounts of data produced by FAST in its search for neutron stars and extra-terrestrial life.

As an official SKA pathfinder telescope, the deployment of the NGAS to FAST will contribute to the development of science and technology for the SKA. You can read more about the NGAS here.

The FAST Telescope. Credit: Prof. Andreas Wicenec/ICRAR
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New Astrophysics Centres of Excellence to be Established

12 September 2016

The Government has announced it will provide funding to establish nine new Centres of Excellence, including two focused on astronomy research. These are the ARC Centre of Excellence for All Sky Astrophysics in Three Dimensions (CAASTRO-3D), and the ARC Centre of Excellence for Gravitational Wave Discovery (OzGRav).

CAASTRO-3D - headed by the Australian National University - will combine radio and optical astronomy to produce multi-dimensional models of galaxies. The SKA is expected to play a key role in this process, contributing to our understanding of the internal dynamics of galaxies and the origin of matter. Click here to discover more about CAASTRO-3D.

OzGRav - led by Swinburne University of Technology - will develop the use of gravitational waves as a tool to understand the universe and the extreme physics of black holes and warped spacetime. Telescopes like the SKA will play an important and complimentary role in the new era of gravitational wave astronomy pioneered by groups like OzGRav. You can read more about the Centres of Excellence here.

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ASKAP’s Dr Lisa Harvey-Smith Wins Eureka Prize

1 September 2016

Dr Lisa Harvey-Smith, a CSIRO radio astronomer and project scientist for the Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder (ASKAP), has been awarded the Eureka Prize for Promoting Understanding of Australian Science Research. The award “recognises her enthusiasm for the project and her capacity to articulate complex science to the general public with an insatiable appetite for all things astronomy".

Growing up with BBC TV shows like Tomorrow's World, and watching Helen Sharman​ become the first British woman in space, Dr Harvey-Smith was inspired to look to the stars. "There are no bigger questions than the ones being asked by astronomers. Where do we come from, where are we going and are we alone?" 

Dr Harvey-Smith’s work on ASKAP is helping to prepare for the full Square Kilometre Array in Australia and South Africa.  You can read more at the Sydney Morning Herald and explore the 2016 Eureka Prizes here.

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World’s Second Fastest Supercomputer Runs Software for the World’s Largest Telescope

23 August 2016

Prototype software developed to manage data from the Square Kilometre Array has been run on the world’s second fastest supercomputer, Tianhe-2, in China. The effort was achieved by an international team led by Professor Tao An from Shanghai Astronomical Observatory and Professor Wicenec from the University of Western Australia. 

The prototype is being developed for the SKA Science Data Processor, which will process the raw observations produced by the telescope, converting them into data that may be analysed by astronomers.

The prototype software was run on 1000 nodes of the supercomputer. The next step is to increase the number of nodes to 8500 – the number that is expected to be in the computer that will process SKA data. You can read more at the ICRAR site.

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SKA Precursor, the Murchison Array, Observes One Million Years into Supernova’s Past

 5 August 2016

An international team of researchers led by the University of Sydney have used the Murchison Widefield Array – an SKA precursor telescope – to observe the remnant of supernova 1987A. The supernova is the closest and brightest supernova ever viewed from Earth. By observing the remnant in the 72MHz-230MHz frequency band – the lowest frequency observations of the object ever collected - the researchers were able to probe a remarkable one million years into the past of the remnant, revealing new details about stellar explosions.

The isolation of the Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory, where the telescope is located, means that faint low frequency radio signals from space are not drowned out by terrestrial FM radio. This was key to the discovery and demonstrates the kind of result that will be possible when SKA-Low is operational at the same site. You can read more at the CAASTRO site.

Artist's impression of a supernova shock front. Credit: CAASTRO
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SKA Telescope is Recruiting 

27 July 2016

There is a position available for the Head of Contracts and Procurement at the SKA Organisation in Chesire, UK. Applications close 21st September 2016. For more information and to apply online please visit the SKA Telescope site.

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New, Super-precise Technology for the SKA Developed by Australian Researchers

12 July 2016

Australian researchers have developed new synchronisation technology for the SKA that performs up to 100 times better than required.

The component – a frequency synchronisation system – would allow the SKA telescope to collect extremely sensitive data even though the telescope antennas are separated by hundreds of kilometres. The synchronisation system, tied to an atomic clock, continually measures and corrects for signal changes in the fibres connecting the individual antennas. The system is so precise that a clock relying on it would only gain or lose a second after three million years.

This work is the result of a great collaboration between researches from the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR), The University of Western Australia School of Physics and CSIRO Astronomy and Space Science. A final decision on technology for the frequency stabilisation system for the SKA will be made in the coming months. You can read more about the technology at the ICRAR site.

UWA’s prototype SKA frequency synchronisation system
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FAST Telescope Construction Complete

4 July 2016


China has placed the final piece of what will be the world’s largest single-dish radio telescope. Located in the southwestern province of Guizhou, the Five-hundred-metre Aperture Spherical Telescope (FAST) is bigger than 30 soccer fields and took more than five years to build. It is hoped that FAST will be operational in September after a few months of testing.

Australian organisations have contributed to elements of FAST. In particular, CSIRO designed and built  the telescope's 19-beam receiver. Australia has a strong relationship with China in the sphere of radio astronomy. In addition to being a fellow SKA member, China and Australia have recently established the Australia-ChinA ConsortiuM for Astrophysical Research (ACAMAR). Read more at the ABC and Sydney Morning Herald websites. ​

The FAST Telescope on completion after the last of the 4,450 panels was installed. Credit: Prof. Andreas Wicenec/ICRAR
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April - June

SKA-mid Dish Design Decided

16 May 2016

The Square Kilometre Array (SKA) Project has selected the design for the SKA-mid dish. This opens the way for the eventual production of hundreds of dishes that will make up the world’s largest radio telescope.

“This decision is a major milestone towards delivering the SKA,” said Alistair McPherson, Head of Project at SKA Organisation. “Being able to “see” what the SKA dishes will look like for the first time is a big satisfaction for all involved.”

Three antenna concepts were built to be considered for the design of the SKA dish: DVA-1 in Canada, DVA-C in China, and MeerKAT-1 in South Africa. All three were constructed using different technology from the different partners. Each represented the very best in radio telescope dish technology currently available.

A selection panel of five engineering experts assessed the dishes and made a unanimous recommendation that the Chinese Panel, Space-frame supported Metal (PSM) concept should be selected. The recommendation that was then approved by the SKA Dish Consortium Board.

The next step will be to build and test a prototype at the South African site. Read more about the dish at the SKA Organisation website.




An artist impression of the full SKA at night, with the selected Panel Space-frame supported Metal (PSM) SKA dish
design in the foreground.

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Third Treaty Negotiations take place in Rome

 27 April 2016

Last week from 19-21 April the Accademia dei Lincei in Rome hosted the third Treaty negotiations. The negotiations are to facilitate the transition of the SKA Organisation into an Intergovernmental Organisation (IGO). During the three days, delegates from the project’s respective member countries participated in important discussions concerning Financial Protocol, Privileges & Immunities, Procurement and Intellectual Property Rights, and the Operations & Access models. Each of these working groups are preparing documentation that will form the basis of the Treaty and ultimately the structure of the organisation that will guide the SKA into an IGO. A fourth Treaty meeting will be held from 27-29 September to finalise the negotiation process.  To read more about the negotiations visit the SKA Organisation website.​



Representatives from the SKA member countries during SKA IGO negotiations at the Accademia dei Lincei in Rome

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CSIRO Astronomy and Space Science is Recruiting

27 April 2016

There is a position available as the Director of CSIRO Astronomy and Space Science (CASS) in Sydney, Australia. The role is for a duration of 3 years and applications close 11.59pm AEST, 19 May 2016. For more information and to apply online please visit the CSIRO jobs page


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SKA Identified as Landmark Project by the European Commission

21 April 2016

The SKA has been identified as a Landmark Project by the European Commission in its recently published research infrastructure Roadmap 2016. The Roadmap is part of the European Strategy Forum on Research Infrastructures (ESFRI). ESFRI identifies research facilities of pan-European importance that are necessary to strengthen scientific excellence and competitiveness in the EU.

“Our status as an ESFRI Landmark Project recognises the SKA as a major research infrastructure for Europe. Delivering the world’s largest radio telescope requires international collaboration at European and indeed global level, and we look forward to further European participation in the SKA.” said Prof Philip Diamond, SKA Organisation Director-General. Read more about the announcement at the SKA website.


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Second Annual OzSKA Conference held in Perth 

14 April 2016

Australian Astronomers met on 8 April for the second annual OzSKA meeting to discuss developments in the SKA The focus was not only on astronomy, but also technological development and the evolution of the SKA Organisation itself. Presentations on SKA-related science were given by many prominent radio astronomers. Policy and engineering updates were also provided by SKA Project Director David Luchetti and CSIRO’s Deputy of Astronomy and Space Science Sarah Pearce respectively. OzSKA was established last year to foster collaboration between Australian scientists who are, or would like to be, involved in the SKA. Driving this is the aim to build a community of knowledgeable scientists ready to make use of the SKA once it is constructed. Read more about the 2016 event at the ANTF and CAASTRO websites.  ​


Credit: Swinburne Astronomy Productions and
AADC Consortium

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Parkes radio telescope to become 'SKA Pathfinder'

8 April 2016


CSIRO’s iconic Parkes radio telescope has been granted the status of ‘SKA pathfinder’.. The status was granted by the Square Kilometre Array Organisation (SKAO) on the basis of its role in testing innovative new receiver systems. The Parkes telescope will be fitted with phased array feed (PAF) receivers similar to those designed and commissioned for CSIRO’s ASKAP telescope. The announcement welcomes Parkes into a group of  world-leading SKA pathfinders where it will play a key role in the technological development of the SKA. Read more at the ATNF website.



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January - March

Astrofest Brings the Sky down to Earth

22 March 2016

Perth’s annual astronomy festival, Astrofest, was held on 12 March. A strong crowd of over 5,000 people attended to celebrate everything space and astronomy. The public was delighted by views of the night sky, interesting talks and interactive astronomy displays. The SKA was featured heavily at the event with both precursors, the MWA and CSIRO’s ASKAP, having their own displays. Read more about the event at the ICRAR website.

The ASKAP and MWA displays at Astrofest. Credit: Astronomy WA Astrofest

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SKA Science Circus tours the Karoo

18 March 2016


Australian Science Communicator Dr Graham Walker, supported by the Australian High Commission in South Africa, has recently toured the Karoo SKA region in South Africa. The purpose of the visit was to teach kids about the amazing science and careers associated with the SKA. The Science Circus Africa tour demonstrated how the SKA dishes collect waves using lasers and even ping pong balls, the effect of having multiple dishes in multiple countries, and the underlying science such as spectroscopy, waves, reflection, and the electromagnetic spectrum.

The project was run with the help of a team from the SKA South Africa Office and the Cape Town Science Centre. Through Dr Walker's training, the show will now become a permanent fixture at the Cape Town Science Centre. Read more at the Science Circus Africa website 

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18 March 2016 CIIC-partners-Woodside-Curtin-Cisco2-613x420.jpg

Born out of collaboration on the SKA, the Cisco Internet of Everything (IoE) Innovation Centre in WA is already kicking goals. The Innovation Centre successfully trialed a new 100Gb/s data link between the MWA and Curtin University Campus in Perth. The data sent from the MWA at the future SKA site, was found to arrive in exactly the same condition in Perth. This creates flexibility for the location of the SKA’s data processing centre. Read the official press release here. ​

(L-R): Woodside Senior Vice President, Strategy, Science and  Technology, Shaun Gregory; Curtin University Vice- Chancellor, Professor Deborah Terry; and Cisco Senior Vice President and Chief Security and Trust Officer, John Stewart, at the Cisco Internet of Everything Innovation Centre​.
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Chair of ICRAR Board Awarded Honorary Doctorate

17 March 2016

Congratulations to passionate radio astronomy and marine science leader Dr Bernard Bowen who has been awarded an honorary Doctor of Letters by The University of Western Australia. The founding chair of the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR) was presented with the degree in recognition of his outstanding contribution to science in Western Australia following a long and distinguished career spanning more than half a century. Read more about Dr Bowen and his work within the sciences on the ICRAR website.




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SKA Office in Manchester is Recruiting

17 March 2016

There is a position available for the role of Head of Procurement in the SKA Office in Manchester.  Applications close April 15. For more information visit the SKA website current vacancies page. To apply email: jobs@skatelescope.org  


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Australian SKA Precursor Telescopes to Aid Gravitational Waves Research

8 March 2016

Following the breakthrough announcement of the detection of Gravitational waves by the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO), Australian researchers and telescopes have a huge role to play in future observations. The SKA precursor, MWA, was the first radio telescope in the world to respond to the call from LIGO to hunt down the source of the unconfirmed gravity wave detection. The wide field of view of the MWA and ASKAP telescopes is crucial as the position of the source of a gravitational wave is not well known. Read more at the ATNF and ICRAR websites.



The ASKAP and MWA telescopes. ​Image credits:
ASKAP  (Alex Cherney), MWA (Pete Wheeler).​

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SKA Project Awarded €5M by EU’s Horizon 2020

23 February 2016

Infrastructure-SKA.pngThe SKA project has been awarded €5M from the European Union’s Research and Innovation programme Horizon 2020. This funding adds to the 150M currently being invested globally in the project’s pre-construction phase and will aid the design of infrastructure across the two sites in Australia and South Africa. See the press release at the SKA organisation website here.


ASKAP antennas and road network (credit: CSIRO).

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Hidden Galaxies Discovered Behind Milky Way

17 February 2016

ICRAR Galaxy image.jpgAn international group of astronomers lead by International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research’s (ICRAR) Professor Lister Staveley-Smith has discovered previously unknown galaxies hidden behind the Milky Way. At a short distance of 250 million light years from Earth, they were just now able to be mapped with novel radio astronomy techniques using the CSIRO Parkes telescope.  Watch this video explaining the discovery and read more about it on the ICRAR, ABC, ScienceAlert and SMH websites.



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ASKAP Solar Farm Powering Forward

17 February 2016

CSIRO’s solar power station for their Australian SKA Pathfinder (ASKAP) telescope situated at Australia’s SKA site has made enormous progress throughout the past few months. The installation of some 5000 photovoltaic panels is well and truly underway, with a battery set to be the largest of its type yet in Australia being designed to contain the vast amount of power generated. Read more at the ASKAP website here.

       ASKAP solar field1.jpg
         The construction of solar panels at the Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory (MRO). Credit: CSIRO

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