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Google Map of the Universe: Australian scientists survey entire southern sky in record time

Hemani Sheth Mumbai | Updated on December 02, 2020

The Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder (ASKAP), developed and operated by Australia’s national science agency, and CSIRO, mapped about 3 million galaxies in 300 hours

Australian scientists with the help of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) radio telescope have surveyed the entire southern sky in record speed and detail, creating “a new atlas of the universe.”

The Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder (ASKAP), developed and operated by Australia’s national science agency, and CSIRO, mapped approximately three million galaxies in 300 hours.

“The Rapid ASKAP Continuum Survey is like a Google map of the universe where most of the millions of star-like points on the map are distant galaxies ― about a million of which we’ve never seen before,” CSIRO said in an official release.

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CSIRO Chief Executive Dr Larry Marshall said, “ASKAP is applying the very latest in science and technology to age-old questions about the mysteries of the universe and equipping astronomers around the world with new breakthroughs to solve their challenges.”

“It’s all enabled by innovative receivers developed by CSIRO that feature phased array feed technology, which see ASKAP generate more raw data at a faster rate than Australia’s entire internet traffic,” Marshall added.

One of the key features of the radio telescope is its wide field of view, generated by new CSIRO-designed receivers. It enables the ASKAP to take panoramic pictures of the sky with great detail.

The team observed 83 per cent of the entire sky through the telescope placed at CSIRO’s Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory (MRO) in outback Western Australia. They then combined 903 images to form a map of the sky.

“For the first time ASKAP has flexed its full muscles, building a map of the universe in greater detail than ever before, and at record speed,” lead author and CSIRO astronomer Dr David McConnell said.

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The 13.5 exabytes of raw data generated by ASKAP were processed using hardware and software custom-built by CSIRO. The data was converted into 2D radio images using the Pawsey Supercomputing Centre’s ‘Galaxy’ supercomputer.

The final 903 images and supporting information amounted to 26 terabytes of data.

The images and catalogues from the survey will be made publicly available through the CSIRO Data Access Portal and hosted at Pawsey.

The initial results have been published in the Publications of the Astronomical Society of Australia.

Through this survey, it is concluded that an all-sky survey can be done in weeks rather than years. This creates new opportunities for space discovery.

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“This census of the uUniverse will be used by astronomers around the world to explore the unknown and study everything from star formation to how galaxies and their supermassive black holes evolve and interact,” McConnell said.

“We expect to find tens of millions of new galaxies in future surveys,” McConnell added.

Published on December 02, 2020

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