Summer 2022 ASKAP update

Science never sleeps!

Every Christmas season, space tracking stations and air traffic control centres join forces to track Santa’s journey around the globe. Radio telescopes can also act as space tracking stations (CSIRO’s Parkes radio telescope, Murriyang, supported several of the Apollo missions), and pick up signals from overhead satellites and planes – as seen in this video from the ASKAP radio telescope.

A black grid on a white background representing the sky as seen by ASKAP. Animated black and red circles appear leaving striped patterns across almost the entire sky as the animation progresses, showing the path of satellites across the sky.

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Is it SANTA? Nope, it’s satellites as seen by our ASKAP radio telescope. Credit: Dr Emil Lenc.

The colour of the circles represents the polarisation of the radio light from the satellites, and the size of the circles represent the radio light’s brightness.

Seasonal tracking

Researchers Dr Laura Driessen and Dr Alec Thomson think that light from Rudolph’s nose might be linearly polarised and aligned with Earth’s magnetic fields, so that he can easily navigate home to the North Pole.

We’ll keep an eye out for these signals from Rudolph’s nose as Santa visits the telescope dishes and homes around Inyarrimanha Ilgari Bundara, our Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory.

When not looking for Santa, our Australian Telescope National Facility keeps operating over the holidays, continually providing radio data for research teams all over the world. It is no different for ASKAP!

Eye on the sky

The ASKAP operations team has successfully adopted a system called SAURON which sets and facilitates observations automatically. SAURON knows what key astronomy targets are in the sky at any time and will move the telescope to observe those targets. It was developed and deployed by Dr Vanessa Moss, using automation of the telescope system put in place by the ASKAP team.

Automating this process means the telescope can operate continuously, with the best possible efficiency. SAURON will be programmed to manage ASKAP operations over the holiday period, working with its counterpart CLINK for automated data processing, to give our busy operations team a rest – with human intervention only happening if needed for safety reasons. 

Aidan Hotan, ASKAP Principal Research Scientist, CSIRO and

Rachel Rayner, ATNF Communications Advisor, CSIRO