Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder (ASKAP)

Context: ASKAP telescope in Australia is creating a ‘Google map’ of the Universe.

  • The Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder (ASKAP) is developed and operated by Australia’s national science agency-CSIRO, has mapped over three million galaxies in a record 300 hours during its first all-sky survey.
  • ASKAP surveys are designed to map the structure and evolution of the Universe, which it does by observing galaxies and the hydrogen gas that they contain.
  • Even before the SKA (Square Kilometre Array ) project comes online, a series of demonstrator telescopes and systems known as pathfinders and precursors is made operational across the world, paving the way for the kinds of technology that the SKA will need.

Analysis

What is ASKAP?

  • ASKAP is a telescope designed over a decade ago and is located in North-Western Australia near Perth.
  • One of its most important features is its wide field of view, because of which it has been able to take panoramic pictures of the sky in great detail.
  • The telescope uses novel technology developed by CSIRO, which is a kind of a “radio camera” to achieve high survey speeds and consists of 36 dish antennas, which are each 12m in diameter.
  • Essentially, the telescope has been able to map a vast area of the universe, something that would otherwise take close to a decade.
  • For the current survey, it combined over 903 images to form the full map of the sky.

What is the significance of the results?

  • The present Rapid ASKAP Continuum Survey (RACS) taken by the ASKAP telescope is like a “Google map” of the Universe where most of the millions of star-like points are distant galaxies, about a million of which have not been seen before.
  • Mapping the Universe on such a scale enables astronomers to study the formation of stars and how galaxies and their supermassive black holes evolve and interact with each other.
  • Further, the results of various surveys undertaken using ASKAP are also being used for the development of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) project.

Square Kilometre Array (SKA) project

  • The Square Kilometre Array (SKA) project is an international effort to build the world’s largest radio telescope, with eventually over a square kilometre (one million square metres) of collecting area.
  • The SKA will use thousands of dishes and up to a million low-frequency antennas that will enable astronomers to monitor the sky in unprecedented detail and survey the entire sky much faster than any system currently in existence.
  • It will also have the ability to image huge areas of sky in parallel a feat which no survey telescope has ever achieved on this scale with this level of sensitivity. Its unique configuration will make its resolution power exceed the image resolution quality of the Hubble Space Telescope.

Co-hosting

  • Both South Africa’s Karoo region and Western Australia’s Murchison Shire were chosen as co-hosting locations for many scientific and technical reasons namely:
  1. Atmosphere above the sites,
  2. Radio quietness (absence of any disturbance/interference from other radio waves such as cellphones etc), which comes from being some of the most remote locations on Earth.
  • South Africa’s Karoo will host the core of the high and mid frequency dishes, ultimately extending over the African continent.
  • Australia’s Murchison Shire will host million low-frequency antennas.

SKA members – A global effort

  • Organisations from 14 countries are members of the SKA Organisation – Australia, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Italy, New Zealand, Spain, South Africa, Sweden, Switzerland, The Netherlands and the United Kingdom.
  • This global organisation is managed by the not-for-profit SKA Organisation, who have their headquarters at the Jodrell Bank Observatory, near Manchester in the United Kingdom.

SKA’s key science goals

  • The SKA will be able to conduct transformational science, breaking new ground in astronomical observations.
  • It will test Einstein’s theory of relativity
  • Help us in understanding the vast magnetic fields which permeate the cosmos.
  • Detailed observation of how the very first stars and galaxies formed just after the big bang, helping scientists understand the nature of a mysterious force known as dark energy.

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