ARC funding for large-scale research infrastructure is contributing to Australia’s involvement in the Square Kilometre Array (SKA), a global next-generation radio telescope project involving institutions from over 20 countries.

One of three telescopes designated as a precursor for the SKA is the Murchison Widefield Array (MWA), a low-frequency radio telescope operating between 80 and 300 MHz. It is located at the Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory in Western Australia, which is also the planned site of the SKA’s lowband telescope. The MWA is playing a critical role in the SKA design process. 

A $1 million grant through the ARC Linkage Infrastructure, Equipment and Facilities scheme has enabled the number of telescope antennas to be doubled—to 256—and quadruple the footprint of the MWA to 28 square kilometres. This improvement has made the telescope ten times more powerful in its exploration of the evolution of the universe.

The MWA’s success has been possible due to the successful marrying of infrastructure funding with support from industry partners such as CISCO, IBM, NVIDIA and local small and medium-sized enterprises, who were involved early in the design and manufacturing process.

The MWA commenced operations in 2013 and has already resulted in over 100 research publications and the collection of over 15 petabytes of data.

Image: A ‘radio colour’ view of the sky above a ‘tile’ of the Murchison Widefield Array radio telescope, located in outback Western Australia. The Milky Way is visible as a band across the sky and the dots beyond are some of the 300,000 galaxies observed by the telescope for the GLEAM survey. Red indicates the lowest frequencies, green the middle frequencies and blue the highest frequencies.
Image courtesy: Radio image by Natasha Hurley-Walker (ICRAR/Curtin) and the GLEAM Team. MWA tile and landscape by Dr John Goldsmith / Celestial Visions.