Autumn 2022 MWA update

Solar storm watch

Two people kneeling on red dirt inspecting a metal spider-like antenna - surrounded by many more groupings of 16 of these antennas.

MWA Director Prof Steven Tingay with Dr John Morgan amongst MWA tiles. Credit: ABC News

The MWA was recently featured in a recent ABC Catalyst broadcast, ‘Solar Storms: A Warning From Space’.

While not harmful to humans, vast solar storms possess enough power to shut down technology on Earth. Radio telescopes like the MWA can help us understand the effects of solar storms, with its ability to see the storm’s invisible makeup.

The Sun is obviously incredibly hot, and blows charged particles into space, which we call the solar wind. This has turbulence just like the heat haze you get off the top of a fire, and it causes small distant objects to twinkle. Researchers like Dr John Morgan specialise in studying this effect, known as interplanetary scintillation, using the MWA.

When solar storms are at their peak, the solar wind is denser, in turn making the interplanetary scintillation even stronger. Observing this effect allows us to predict up to three days in advance how severe the storm will be on Earth. With this way of forecasting, we are better prepared for the next big solar event.

Mia Walker, Project Officer, MWA

Galactic snapshot and mysterious discovery

A black sky background with two puffy lobes arranged vertically - the radio galaxy - in purple, red, orange and yellow.

Centaurus A as seen by the MWA. Credit: Ben McKinley, ICRAR/Curtin and Connor Matherne, Louisiana State University.

Using the Murchison Widefield Array radio telescope, researchers from the Curtin University node of ICRAR have produced the most comprehensive image of the giant radio galaxy Centaurus A and discovered an object unlike anything astronomers have seen before.

Centaurus A is a galaxy that contains the nearest actively feeding supermassive black hole to Earth. As matter gets ripped apart by the black hole, powerful jets erupt which are extremely bright to a radio telescope.

Dr Benjamin McKinley said the new image reveals spectacular new details of the radio emission from the galaxy.

Curtin University Honours student Tyrone O’Doherty, also using the MWA, discovered a new object that released a giant burst of energy three times an hour for three months in 2018.

Spinning around in space, the strange object sent out a beam of radiation that crossed Earth’s line of sight, and for a minute in every twenty, was one of the brightest radio sources in the sky.

Dr Natasha Hurley-Walker, who led the team that made the discovery said the radio waves repeated like clockwork about three times per hour.

“It was kind of spooky because there’s nothing known in the sky that repeats on that timescale so precisely,” she said.

The team think it could be a neutron star or a white dwarf—collapsed cores of stars—with an ultra-powerful magnetic field.

Communications team, ICRAR