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One small link, one giant leap in bid for €1.5 billion telescope


New Zealand and Australia's bid to win the multi-billion dollar SKA radio telescope project has taken one giant leap forward after Australasian telescopes observed two black orbiting black holes together.

NBR Staff
Fri, 08 Jul 2011

Australasia's bid to host the €1.5 billion Square Kilometre Array radio astronomy project is looking mighty fine after Australasian telescopes together observed and streamed data in real-time of astronomical phenomena.

SKA is to be the world's largest radio telescope, looking to study the fundamental questions of the Universe, and New Zealand-Australia is bidding against South Africa to host the project, with economic and intellectual benefits said to far exceed the local bill of about $27-$55 million.

New Zealand has been working hard to win the bid process, including launching several pathfinder projects such as an IBM Shared University Research award to Victoria University, and the latest step in the path to winning SKA was the successful co-operative observation of a radio source that could be two black holes orbiting each other.

On June 29, six telescopes, including AUT's University's Warkworth telescope, and telescopes in Australia, were used together to observe the radio source, with data streamed from all sites, thanks to a fibre optic link between the telescopes, to Curtin University in Perth where it was processed to form an image. 

The release from AUT emphasised the importance of successfully linking dishes over large distances, since the SKA project will consist of several thousand dishes, up to 5,500 kilometres apart, working as a single telesope.

AUT’s Professor Sergei Gulyaev said SKA's many dishes would produce too much information per second to record hours of data.

“Instead we will have to stream and process vast amounts of data in real-time.  This is 21st century technology and we are proud that New Zealand is at the very forefront of this development.”

The radio astronomers observed a quasar more than twelve thousand million light years away, which emits a radio jet with regularly spaced bright spots in it, like a string of pearls. It has been suggested that this pattern is created by two black holes in orbit around each other, one black hole periodically triggering the other to “feed” and emit a burst of radiation.

CSIRO astronomer Dr Tasso Tzioumis said the astronomers were able to zoom into its core and see details a few millionths of a dgree in scale, "equivalent to looking at a 10 cent piece from a distance of 1,000 km."

During the experiment radio astronomers controlled all the telescopes over the Internet from Warkworth and Sydney.

Chair of REANNZ Professor John Raine said KAREN, New Zealand's high speed network for research institutions, intended to be an anchor tenant on any new international fibre cable providing connectivity of 40 Gps - “more than enough to link the New Zealand and Australian parts of SKA.”

Meanwhile the SKA founding board, of which New Zealand is a member, announced this week that significant progress had been made after the unveiling of the timeline and process for the site selection.  New Zealand-Australia and South Africa are bidding against each other, and selection will be based upon science, technical, legal, security and legal factors, as well as plans and costs of implementing infrastructure including power distribution.

"Selection factors that will be considered in the decision making process will include levels of radio frequency interference, the long term sustainability of a radio quiet zone, the physical characteristics of the site, data network connectivity across the vast distances covered by the telescope as well as operating and infrastructure cost."

A final decision by the SKA board of directers is expected by early 2012.

NBR Staff
Fri, 08 Jul 2011
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One small link, one giant leap in bid for €1.5 billion telescope
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