The Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory (MRO), is located approximately 315 kilometres northeast of Geraldton in Western Australia's Mid West region. The MRO area is sparsely populated, with exceptionally low radio interference and excellent observing conditions. The Australian and Western Australian Governments have established the Australian Radio Quiet Zone WA to protect the radio quiet nature of the site.
The MRO currently hosts two world-leading radio astronomy telescopes, the Australian SKA Pathfinder (ASKAP) and the Murchison Widefield Array (MWA). These successful precursor telescopes are paving the way for Western Australia to host the Australian component of the international Square Kilometre Array (SKA) project.
Murchison Widefield Array
The Murchison Widefield Array (MWA), a low frequency telescope, is a key precursor in the design and development of the low frequency component of the SKA. Curtin University leads the MWA consortium, made up of 15 institutions across Australia, India, New Zealand and the United States.
The MWA consists of 2,048 dipole antennas arranged as 128 aperture array tiles. The MWA was recently awarded a $1 million grant from the Australian Research Council to double the number of antennas, which will increase the telescope's sensitivity ten-fold.
The MWA has already extended scientific frontiers, such as enhancing understanding of galaxy populations through an all sky survey completed in 2014. A key area of investigation is searching for and studying the period in the early universe when the first stars and galaxies formed.
Since commencing operations in July 2013, the MWA has captured over seven petabytes of data, enough to fill over one million DVDs. The data is transmitted to the Pawsey Supercomputing Centre in Perth for processing. The Centre's Galaxy supercomputer is dedicated to radio astronomy, with over 9,000 processor cores and over 8,000 times the memory of the average desktop computer.
Image of MWA. Credit: Curtin University
For more information visit the Murchison Widefield Array website.
Australian SKA Pathfinder telescope
Officially opened in October 2012, CSIRO's Australian SKA Pathfinder (ASKAP) is a mid frequency radio telescope comprising 36 dish antennas.
A next generation telescope, ASKAP provides wide and clear images of the sky, allowing astronomers to map and compare astronomical objects faster than ever before.
ASKAP's world leading survey capability has provided ground-breaking early results. In July 2015, ASKAP discovered gas from a galaxy over 5 billion light-years away. This discovery would not have been possible without the unique features of the ASKAP and the radio-quiet environment surrounding the MRO.
For more information on ASKAP, please visit the CSIRO Australian Telescope National Facility webpage.
Image of ASKAP dish antennas. Credit: ICRAR
The Aperture Array Verification System (AAVS) is a prototype instrument for SKA1-Low, the low frequency component of the SKA. Located and operated in conjunction with the MWA telescope, the AAVS enables field testing, verification and demonstration to inform the design of SKA1-Low.
The MRO also hosts the 'Experiment to Detect the Global EoR (Epoch of Reionisation) Signature' or EDGES. Run by the MIT Haystack Observatory and Arizona State University, EDGES aims to enhance understanding of the very first galaxies created during the early period of the universe.