Much of ICRAR's work revolves around science associated with the Square Kilometre Array and its precursors.
In broad terms, ICRAR's key research themes are:
This includes science with existing world-class radio telescopes in Australia and elsewhere, and preparatory studies for the SKA and precursor telescopes.
There are a number of key research areas.
Surveys of neutral hydrogen in the nearby Universe had taught astronomers much about the processes by which ordinary gas accretes onto galaxies owing to collisional processes and direct infall. It has also told astronomers about the physical processes involved in the formation of stars.
The challenge for the future is to conduct such surveys in the more distant Universe where the evolution of the properties of galaxies, and even the evolution of the geometry of the Universe itself, can be studied.
Many radio sources appear to have a variable energy output. Pulsars are a well-known example, but a myriad of other classes of galactic and extragalactic objects have variable energy output on timescales which range from fractions of a second to years.
Future-sensitive, widefield radio telescopes will be very sensitive to such variability. ICRAR researchers are conducting science and technical research to better understand the phenomenon of variability.
Observation of powerful radio sources with high angular resolution is an important technique for studying their structure and motion, and is an important science goal for the SKA. ICRAR researchers are conducting scientific research using VLBI data, and conducting research aimed at improving the VLBI technique using, for example, better and faster data transport mechanisms.
The progression from the relatively small data volumes produced by most current radio telescopes to the huge amount to be generated by next-generation telescopes will be a challenge for astronomers.
ICRAR researchers are conducting studies into systems capable of dealing with the storage and serving of large data volumes, as well as in techniques required to process such volumes.
The SKA relies on low-cost, high-capability hardware. Engineering research at ICRAR is helping to meet this challenge in a number of areas, including the development of Aperture Arrays, which are radio telescopes with no moving parts, designed to be steered electronically.
The development of such widefield, wideband systems operating to frequencies close to 1 Gigahertz is a key technical goal for the SKA.
“The scientific opportunities of the SKA and ASKAP are immense - ICRAR researchers are proud to be working on radio astronomy projects with colleagues from around the world”.
Maintaining radio quietness
To receive weak radio signals from space, you need a place where there is little to no background noise.
This means choosing a remote location, away from man-made radio frequency noise, like the Shire of Murchison in remote Western Australia.
Research Engineer, Dr Franz Schlagenhaufer, has the challenge of ensuring that this quiet is not disturbed by the radio telescopes themselves. The background noise must remain low, even after the installation of vast arrays of antennas, cables, power supplies and computing equipment. Every piece of equipment must be specifically designed and tested for electromagnetic emissions before going on site.
"Every electrical device emits electromagnetic waves. We must design equipment with minimal emissions and then seal them in shielding enclosures to make them even quieter."