A powerful new telescope in outback Australia has mapped vast areas of the universe in record-breaking time, revealing a million new galaxies and opening the way to new discoveries, the country’s national science agency has said.
Known as the Australian Square Kilometer Array Pathfinder (ASKAP), the A$188 million ($138 million) radio telescope, was able to map around three million galaxies in just 300 hours.
Comparable surveys of the sky have taken up to 10 years.
The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) study of the southern skies at the Murchison Radio Astronomy Observatory in Western Australia was led by astronomer David McConnell.
“It’s really a game changer,” said McConnell.
The telescope’s wide field of view, using receivers designed by CSIRO, makes it unique. It allows the telescope to take panoramic pictures of the sky in sharper detail than before.
The telescope only needed to combine 903 images to map the sky, compared with other all-sky radio surveys that require tens of thousands of images.
“It is more sensitive than previous surveys that have covered the whole sky like this, so we do see more objects than have been seen in the past,” McConnell told Reuters.
With a telescope that can study the sky in a matter of weeks or months, the process can be repeated over and over again over a relatively short period of time so that astronomers can consistently identify and track changes.
“Even with this first pass we’ve got right now, compared with previous images, we’ve already found some unusual objects,” McConnell said, including some unusual stars that undergo violent outbursts.
He said that the data collected as part of the survey would let astronomers to learn more about star formation and the evolution of galaxies and black holes through statistical analysis.
The first results were published Tuesday in the publications of the Astronomical Society of Australia.