Transforming our view of the universe

Rendering of a Supermassive Black Hole Credit: ESO/L. Cal├žada

Researchers at Western Sydney University are working to revolutionise the way we study the universe, with a review paper showing how radio astronomy can aid our understanding of how galaxies form and evolve, and are set to potentially uncover strange new objects and phenomena never seen before.

The review paper — published in Nature Astronomy — charts observations of radio waves invisible to the naked eye, from black holes and galaxies, from their discovery in 1932 to today’s latest technology charting objects billions of light years away.

Lead author of the study, Western Sydney University’s Professor Ray Norris, who is also affiliated with the CSIRO, says the survey highlights that we are currently in a ‘surge of discovery’ with surveys charting radio waves about to start in Australia, South Africa, India, the United States and the Netherlands.

“This surge will not only revolutionise radio astronomy but allow us to learn far more about how galaxies form and evolve in the universe,” he says.

Foremost among these new projects is EMU (Evolutionary Map of the Universe), which will use CSIRO’s revolutionary ASKAP (Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder) telescope to map out the faintest radio galaxies in the sky.

EMU – led by Professor Ray Norris and consisting of around 300 scientists from 21 countries – is set to raise the number of radio sources (i.e. objects in outer space that emit strong radio waves) from 2.5 million (the number discovered so far by all radio telescopes around the world over the entire history of radio astronomy) to about 70 million.

“Once EMU and the other surveys have finished, the entire radio sky will be mapped and this will transform radio-astronomy,” he says.

“It will mean that the entire radio map of the sky will be downloadable on the internet, so future radio-astronomers can do their astronomy by mining the data on the web. This will firmly place radio astronomy in the toolbox of every astronomer, opening new tracts of unexplored space which could lead to completely unexpected discoveries.”

Ends

12 September 2017

Emma Sandham, Senior Media Officer