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ICRAR’s science program is based on the instinctive human endeavour to understand more about the nature of everything around us.

Making sense of the information from new generation telescopes such as the Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder (ASKAP), Murchison Widefield Array (MWA) and Square Kilometre Array (SKA) will vastly expand our view and understanding of the Universe.

By attracting a diverse team of world-class researchers and collaborating with other leading institutions, ICRAR has grown into an internationally-renowned centre of astronomy research in just five years. We currently employ around 100 staff and are training nearly 40 graduate students across our two nodes (Curtin and UWA) and have published over 900 peer-reviewed journal articles since 2009.

ICRAR’s Peer-reviewed Publications

Science Focus

From 2009-2014, ICRAR’s key science focuses were Galaxy Assembly and Evolution (neutral hydrogen surveys), the Variable Universe (radio transients), and High Angular Resolution Radio Astronomy (detailed images of distant galaxies). As new research opportunities have arisen, ICRAR’s science plan for the next five years has evolved and now combine our proven strengths and high-impact areas with the major science objectives of the SKA.

Our science research objectives are divided across ICRAR’s two nodes, Curtin and UWA, although each project involves a high level of collaboration between the two universities. Curtin’s key focuses are compact object and accretion physics, as well as an assortment of MWA science. Our UWA node is studying the distant Universe through a range of observational, theoretical, and simulation programs. The outcomes of ICRAR science over the next few years will both guide and adapt to the developments of SKA science.

Recent Science Highlights

Murchison Widefield Array Science

Project leads: Professor Carole Jackson and Dr Nick Seymour

This broad project aims to extract valuable science from the Murchison Widefield Array (MWA), with particular focus on:

  • Characterising enigmatic objects such as pulsars and fast radio transients;
  • Observations from the Epoch of Reionisation – a cosmic period 13 billion years ago when the first stars and galaxies formed; and
  • Galaxies – by surveying the entire southern hemisphere sky, the MWA will make in-depth observations of our own galaxy and external galaxies, allowing ICRAR scientists to map the Universe in greater detail than ever before.

Case study: GLEAM


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Accretion Physics

This artist's impression shows a black hole consuming a star that has been torn apart by the black hole’s strong gravity. As a result of this massive “meal” the black hole begins to launch a powerful jet that we can detect with radio telescopes. Credit: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center/Swift.

This artist’s impression shows a black hole consuming a star that has been torn apart by the black hole’s strong gravity. As a result of this massive “meal” the black hole begins to launch a powerful jet that we can detect with radio telescopes.
Credit: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center/Swift.

Project lead: Dr James Miller-Jones

Accretion Physics is building on ICRAR’s recent success and extensive expertise in this field. The project will combine observations from several telescopes to improve our knowledge of accretion and jet ejection from poorly-understood compact objects such as neutron stars and black holes.

Gas and Feedback with Radio Surveys

Project lead: Dr Barbara Catinella

This project will discover more about the origin and evolution of galaxies through cutting-edge telescopes, including ASKAP and the MWA. It involves analysis of WALLABY and DINGO neutral hydrogen surveys that will catalogue and map half a million galaxies and track galaxy evolution over 4 billion years. ICRAR will also collaborate with the EMU (Evolutionary Map of the Universe) team from CSIRO to complement WALLABY studies by investigating the evolution of a subset of highly variable and luminous galaxies known as ‘active galaxies’.

Multiwavelength and Spectroscopic Surveys

Galaxy survey chart showing hundreds of thousands of galaxies.

Each coloured dot on this diagram is a galaxy that has been observed as part of one of many survey projects conducted globally. Credit: Simon Driver and the GAMA team.

Project lead: Professor Simon Driver

The Multi-wavelength and Spectroscopic survey group are focussed on the evolution of mass, energy and structure in the Universe with a particular focus on tackling one of the enduring mysteries of the Universe – the nature of dark matter. This involves constructing three-dimensional maps of the Universe via large spectroscopic campaigns which are capable of directly “seeing” the dark matter distribution. At ICRAR we lead the GAMA and WAVES spectroscopic surveys and are closely involved in the TAIPAN survey and the survey design of the Manukea Spectroscopic Explorer. The group also uses high spatial resolution spectral data and images from the European Southern Observatory (ESO) to determine the structure, mass and chemical distribution, stellar populations and dynamics of galaxies in unprecedented detail.

The multi-wavelength campaign is built around measuring the energy output of our spectroscopic samples at all wavelengths to sample the high-energy, stellar, dust and gaseous components. This entails processing data from a large array of ground and space-based facilities including a number of new facilities about to come on-line: NASAs JWST and WFIRST facilities, ESAs Euclid facility, Germany’s eROSITA facility, the US LSST facility and Australia’s ASKAP facility. In doing so we bring together data from the best facilities to provide a coherent picture of the evolution of mass, energy and structure in our Universe.

Computational Theory and Modelling

This simulation shows an energetic galaxy and the powerful X-rays emitted by the gas within it. Bubbles in the gas caused by supernovae and stellar winds are also visible. Credit: Chris Power, Rick Newton and the ICRAR Simulations Team.

This simulation shows an energetic galaxy and the powerful X-rays emitted by the gas within it. Bubbles in the gas caused by supernovae and stellar winds are also visible. Credit: Chris Power, Rick Newton and the ICRAR Simulations Team.

Project lead: Professor Chris Power

Computational Theory and Modelling is extracting science from recent surveys and using it to refine existing models that make predictions for large galaxy populations. The refined models will guide future surveys and aid the interpretation of their results. In a positive feedback manner, information from the millions (ASKAP) and billions (SKA) of galaxies studied by next-generation surveys will be invaluable in refining computational models and cosmological parameters which will guide subsequent surveys.

The cutting-edge models developed by ICRAR use a range of techniques including numerical and hydrodynamical simulations, semi-analytic modelling and semi-empirical modelling to create accurate predictions of astrophysical processes including galaxy formation, galactic gas accretion and cosmic structure. Currently, several competing models of dark matter and dark energy are being tested for their agreement with new galaxy observations and the large-scale structure of the Universe, with the aim to validate or dismiss potential cosmological models.

Epoch of Reionisation

Two different possible evolutionary paths of neutral gas in the Universe. These paths are being probed by low-frequency radio telescopes, such as the Murchison Widefield Array.

Two different possible evolutionary paths of neutral gas in the Universe. These paths are being probed by low-frequency radio telescopes, such as the Murchison Widefield Array. Image courtesy of Andrei Mesinger.

Project lead: Dr Cathryn Trott

The Epoch of Reionisation project explores the first billion years of the Universe, as probed through the redshifted emission line of neutral hydrogen gas. Studying the spatial and temperature distribution of the neutral hydrogen gas between the first galaxies provides key insights into the growth of structure at the Cosmic Dawn, and the first sources of ionising radiation in the Universe. We are exploring this signal with the Murchison Widefield Array (MWA), and future Square Kilometre Array (SKA).