Two Australian sky surveys are expected to uncover an unprecedented 700,000 new galaxies over the course of the new year
Sunday December 30 2012
Two Australian sky surveys named Wallaby and Dingo are expected to uncover an unprecedented 700,000 new galaxies over the course of the new year.
A huge new radio telescope facility in Western Australia will scour vast regions of space to provide new clues about galaxy evolution.
The £65 million Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder (Askap) is located in a remote desert region of Western Australia, 196 miles from the port of Geraldton. It consists of 36 identical 12 metre-wide dishes that work together as a single antenna.
Askap, which starts scanning the southern skies this year, will also help astronomers investigate one of the greatest mysteries of the universe: dark energy.
This is the anti-gravity force which appears to be causing galaxies to fly apart at an accelerating rate. Although no one is sure what dark energy is, it accounts for 73% of all the mass-energy in the universe.
Scientists were able to predict Askap's capabilities by combining its specifications with computer simulations.
Dr Alan Duffy, a member of the Askap team from the University of Western Australia, said: "Askap is a highly capable telescope. Its surveys will find more galaxies, further away and be able to study them in more detail than any other radio telescope in the world. We predict that Wallaby will find an amazing 600,000 new galaxies and Dingo 100,000, spread over trillions of cubic light years of space."
The telescope will examine galactic hydrogen gas - the fuel that forms stars - to see how galaxies have changed in the last four billion years.
Askap is itself a curtain raiser for an even more ambitious project, the Square Kilometre Array (Ska).
With receiving stations stretching between South Africa, Australia and New Zealand, Ska will be the world's largest radio telescope when it begins operating in 2019. Its combined antennae will provide a total radiation collecting area of approximately one square kilometre.