Australian Radio Telescope Mapped 3 Million Distant Galaxies in 300 Hours

To Australia's credit, older telescope arrays can take up to 10 years to map this many galaxies.
Brad Bergan

A powerful telescope has hit the astronomy scene in Australia — mapping maddeningly vast areas of the universe in record-breaking time, unveiling one million new galaxies, and paving the way to new mysteries of the universe, according to a study published Tuesday in the journal Publications of the Astronomical Society of Australia.


Australian radio telescope stuns world, maps millions of distant galaxies

Called the Australian Square Kilometer Array Pathfinder (ASKAP), the telescope capably mapped roughly three million galaxies in a mere 300 hours. Similar surveys of the night sky have taken up to 10 years to complete.

"It's really a game changer," said David McConnell, an astronomer who led the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) in the study of the southern sky above Western Australia, at the Murchison Radioastronomy Observatory.

Radio telescope survey more sensitive than previous ones

The singular importance of this telescope is its incredibly wide field of view — it uses CSIRO-designed receivers, which enables it to snap panoramic images of the sky in sharper detail than in the past.

The Australia-based telescope array needed to blend 903 images to map the sky. Comparatively, other all-sky radio surveys need tens of thousands of images to make it happen.

"It is more sensitive than previous surveys that have covered the whole sky like this, so we do see more objects than have been seen in the past," said McConnell, to Reuters.

'First pass' survey already captured 'unusual objects'

A telescope array ready to survey the sky in weeks or months instead of decades means the process can happen again and again in dizzyingly short snippets of time, allowing astronomers to systematically spot and track changes on human — instead of cosmic — timescales.

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"Even with this first pass we've got right now, compared with previous images, we've already found some unusual objects," said McConnell, including a collection of stars known to experience "violent outbursts," Al Jazeera reports.

Aussie Array
This new data will help astronomers study how black holes and galaxies evolve. Source: CSIRO / Wikimedia

New data will help astronomers understand how black holes, galaxies evolve

McConnell said the newly-amassed data from this survey would let astronomers better grasp how stars form, and how black holes and the galaxies around them evolve — using statistical analyses.

Almost everybody knows the universe is vast, which means there's no shortage of cosmic space to explore. Australia's ASKAP array has added orders of magnitude to the pace of mapping galaxies, a task for which the size of the array truly does matter.

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