Winter 2022 ASKAP update

A bright orange and yellow wispy circular structure in the middle of the image, with a black background peppered with bright dots.
An image of a supernova remnant, captured by CSIRO’s ASKAP radio telescope, and processed by the Pawsey Centre’s Setonix. Credit: CSIRO ASKAP Science Data Processing/Pawsey Supercomputing Research Centre.

For National Science Week, we celebrated all the achievements of our ASKAP radio telescope in a discussion with some of the scientists who use ASKAP every day. As we all know, it is quite a special instrument with a lot of moving parts! ASKAP’s CSIRO-designed phased array feed receivers give the telescope a wide field of view and create a torrent of data. Custom digital signal processing hardware at the MRO extracts key information which is then sent to the supercomputers at the Pawsey Supercomputing Research Centre to turn ASKAP’s digital output into images of the radio sky. An online event last week shared all this and more with 65 participants, with some great questions along the way.

But it is not only ASKAP that is making breakthroughs. Last week, teams from CSIRO and the Pawsey Centre successfully demonstrated the power of a new supercomputer, called Setonix. The team used challenging radio astronomy data from ASKAP in an early-stage test of the supercomputer’s specially-designed software. The resulted is the most-detailed image yet of this supernova remnant (the remains of an exploding star). This is extremely promising, and hints of great things to come.

All this hard work is being recognised with our ASKAP telescope being awarded the 2022 Peter McGregor prize for innovation in astronomical instrumentation in June. The award recognises ASKAP’s role as a rapid survey telescope designed to answer big questions about the structure and evolution of the universe. It celebrates ASKAP’s current achievements, such as the RACS sky maps and discoveries like odd radio circles, and sets the stage for more amazing results that will flow over the next five years during our first full survey campaign.

Proving the point further was a recent discovery of the brightest-ever pulsar: a rotating star that can only be seen by radio telescopes. This star has a very unusual light pattern which meant it has remained unnoticed. ASKAP donned the astronomy version of sunglasses to see just polarised light in the sky, enabling it to detect the pulsar separate from all the other galaxies and radio emissions around it.

Aidan Hotan, ASKAP Principal Research Scientist, CSIRO and

Rachel Rayner, ASKAP Communications Advisor, CSIRO