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A big step toward the Square Kilometre Array in Western Australia

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The completion of works to make the Murchison Widefield Array (MWA) ten times more powerful in its exploration of the evolution of the Universe was officially celebrated at Curtin University today.

The Phase Two expansion saw the addition of 2,048 antennas to the MWA radio telescope, thereby doubling the number of antennas onsite at its remote location in Western Australia’s mid-west region at CSIRO’s Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory, on the traditional lands of the Wadjarri Yamatji people.

The MWA is one of four precursor telescopes for the much larger billion-dollar SKA (Square Kilometre Array) project.

Today’s celebration event was attended by Federal Minister for Jobs and Innovation, the Hon Michaelia Cash and Parliamentary Secretary Chris Tallentire representing WA Minister for Innovation and ICT, the Hon Dave Kelly.

Curtin University Vice-Chancellor Professor Deborah Terry said Curtin was proud to lead the international MWA consortium of 21 research institutions.

“The MWA is one of the cornerstones of Curtin’s investment in astronomy research, and plays a central role across astrophysics, engineering, and computing and we look forward to supporting the SKA and other opportunities to advance space science in Western Australia, nationally, and globally,” Professor Terry said.

“Astronomy and space science capture the imagination of the public and provide a compelling vehicle to stimulate emerging areas of the Western Australian economy, such as data analytics and advanced engineering.”

MWA Director, Curtin University Professor Melanie Johnston-Hollitt, said the Phase Two expansion had greatly increased the research capacity of the $50 million instrument, further enhancing WA’s and Australia’s role in studying the origins of the first stars and galaxies in the Universe.

“The telescope is now ten times more powerful and with double the resolution, meaning not only can we explore more of the Universe, but the quality of the images we produce is significantly improved, providing the opportunity for greater scientific discovery,” Professor Johnston-Hollitt said.

The Phase Two rollout began in mid-2016 with the deployment of 1,152 antennas, arranged in a regular hexagonal configuration that became operational in October that year.

The remainder of the rollout – 896 additional long baseline antennas – began at the start of 2017 with industry partners and MWA staff joining forces to lay each antenna by hand between July and October.

Professor Melanie Johnston-Hollitt said the expansion left as small a footprint as possible on the site of the MWA out of respect for the landscape, and in cultural recognition of the land’s custodians, the Wadjarri Yamatji people.

Mr Kelly said the launch represented another landmark in Western Australia’s development as a global radio astronomy hub.

“Radio astronomy is part of Western Australia’s broader ‘space industry’ and as a growing industry has the potential to create new WA jobs and help diversify our local economy. Radio astronomy also has the potential to lift the profile of STEM education,” Mr Kelly said.

The MWA is a collaboration of 21 partner academic institutions from Australia, the United States, Japan, New Zealand, China, and Canada. Curtin University is the collaboration’s lead organisation and the recipient and manager of Australian MWA funding.

The Phase Two expansion of the MWA was partly funded by a $1 million grant as part of the Australian Research Council (ARC) Linkage Infrastructure, Equipment and Facilities (LIEF) scheme. A further $1.9 million has been provided by partner institutions.  Operations funding for the MWA is via the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy (NCRIS), administered by Astronomy Australia Limited (AAL).

A range of photos and videos relating to MWA Phase Two are available for download here. A caption sheet with details for each video and photo is also available via this link.

For more information on the MWA expansion and science cases please visit the MWA website.

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