Issue 6 - July 6, 2009 enews homee

New telescope to be installed at CDU’s Katherine campus


The Katherine campus telescope will be a duplicate of the UTAS Mount Pleasant Observatory installation

By Richie Hodgson

A new high-tech telescope will make Charles Darwin University’s Katherine campus part of an Australia-wide network that will detect the tiny movements of our continent.

The network, an initiative of AuScope Limited, will closely examine the structure and evolution of the Australian continent in time and space.

The University of Tasmania (UTAS), in collaboration with Geoscience Australia and Curtin University of Technology, are constructing three, 12m diameter radio telescopes which will allow astronomers to use quasars, which are objects billions of light years away, as fixed points of reference.

Earlier this year, the first telescope was installed at the UTAS Mount Pleasant Observatory. Telescopes at Katherine, 300km south of Darwin, and at Yarragadee in Western Australia, will complete the triangle-shaped network.

Project Manager for the AuScope telescope project in the UTAS School of Maths and Physics, Dr Jim Lovell said the team had recently applied to obtain a lease from CDU for the land required for the new facility.

“A Memorandum of Understanding between UTAS and CDU is currently being developed which will cover the construction and operation of the state-of-the-art facility,” he said.

“The array of telescopes will provide the backbone to an integrated spatial positioning system spanning the whole continent.”

Dr Lovell said measuring accurate positions was very difficult because nothing on the Earth was fixed.

“Continents drift. There are earthquakes all the time and we’re subject to the tidal attraction of the Sun and Moon. We need a fixed point of reference off the Earth,” Dr Lovell said.

“Because quasars are so bright and so far away, they are stationary and make excellent target objects. We can use them to work out the positions of our telescopes to high precision.

“At the moment, it's possible to make centimetre-level measurements, but AuScope aims to improve that to millimetre levels.”

Construction of the Katherine telescope is scheduled to begin later this year with the facility expected to be operating by mid-2010.

The network is an initiative of AuScope Limited, of which UTAS is a partner. AuScope is funded by the Commonwealth Government Department of Innovation, Industry Science and Research under the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy.