Prototype telescope grabs its first pics of southern sky

CSIRO

Prototype telescope grabs its first pics of southern sky

The Australian SKA Pathfinder telescope (ASKAP), a precursor to the much larger Square Kilometre Array (SKA) which will begin construction later this decade, today released its first images of the southern sky. SKA aims to test relativity, study galaxy evolution, and peer back into the era of the very first stars and galaxies. It will incorporate thousands of radio telescope dishes across vast expanses of southern Africa and Australia, but to test out techniques, astronomers are building precursors in both host countries. Australia’s will eventually include 36 dishes, but the first results were produced by just six working together. Each one is fitted with a novel detector known as a phased array feed (visible at the focus of the dish), which is the radio astronomy version of the charge-coupled device in a digital camera. This helps astronomers survey the sky at high speed—one of SKA’s key tasks—because it can look in multiple directions at the same time. In one of ASKAP’s first images, it observed an area of the southern sky covering 10 square degrees (50 times the size of the full moon) by capturing nine overlapping zones simultaneously. It produced the image in 12 hours, twice the speed of any comparable telescope in the Southern Hemisphere. When all 36 dishes of ASKAP are operational, it will be 25 times faster still and will be the world’s top survey telescope at centimeter wavelengths.