Uncovering the mystery of stellar nurseries

The Cepheus Flare just one of the stellar nurseries in the night sky where stars are formed. Image: NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day/ Stephen Leshin

The Cepheus Flare just one of the stellar nurseries in the night sky where stars are formed. Image: NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day/Stephen Leshin

Claire-Elise Green wants to time travel. She wants to peer into the stellar nursery of the cosmos and understand how stars are formed, in their infancy, billions of years ago. To do this she needs access to multi-billion dollar telescopes, astronomical amounts of data and the time to work with the best and brightest in the field. Not something you can just Google.

This is why she is heading to the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany to work with the equipment, data and experts needed to further her PhD research. This isn’t a cheap European getaway by any stretch of the imagination.

The winner of the inaugural CSIRO Alumni 2015 Scholarship in Physics award: Claire-Elise Green

The winner of the inaugural CSIRO Alumni 2015 Scholarship in Physics award: Claire-Elise Green

But Claire-Elise took a big step towards financing this journey when she was selected as the first ever recipient of the CSIRO Alumni 2015 Scholarship in Physics award.

The award was setup in honour the four physicists who sadly lost their lives – two years ago – in a tragic accident, with a view to helping young Australians finance their projects and research in physics.

After beating out 14 other entries, Claire-Elise was handed the award and the $5000 scholarship fund at a ceremony in Lindfield, NSW.

Before she heads off to Germany with her novelty over-sized cheque, we had a chance to sit down and speak with Claire-Elise about her research, her time with us and her passion for science.

Mastering Blob-ology

Claire-Elise’s scholarship winning project seeks to understand the birth of stars. So she scours the sky, looking for ancient molecular clouds in the deep dark recesses of space. These clouds play the role of stellar nurseries and look like large blobs with a radio telescope, so naturally she refers to this area of research as blob-ology.

Deep within the blob (and with the help of incredibly sensitive high resolution telescopes) you can find strings of gas and dust which appear within the cloud. These strings, called filaments, are the focus of Claire-Elise’s PhD, supervised by Dr. Maria Cunningham at UNSW, and our very own Dr Joanne Dawson.

Observations with James Clerk Maxwell Telescope (JCMT) of a molecular cloud and then the same region observed at higher resolution with The Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) Images: Rathborne et al. 2014 and 2015 papers

Blurry blob and clear blob: Observations through the Maxwell Telescope (JCMT) of a molecular cloud and then the same region observed at higher resolution with The Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA). Images: Dr Jill Rathborne

In the process of star formation, dense regions of gas and dust within the molecular cloud collapse under gravity to form star forming cores. Most of these star forming cores have been found to lie on these dense filaments of gas like beads on a string. The role of these filaments in the star formation process, however, is currently unknown.

While she has had access to the Australian Compact Telescope Array near Narribri, and the Mopra Telescope, near Coonabarabran there is still lots of work to be done in this relatively new field of astrophysics and the time she will spend at the Max Planck Institute will further her understanding of the cosmic cabbage patch.

This PhD research into star formation is the culmination of many years of study back here on Earth.

A passionate scientist from a young age, Claire-Elise cites our Double Helix magazine as an early inspiration for all things scientific (please excuse the shameless self-promotion).

As she moved into high school she was fortunate enough to be part of a program designed to encourage young women to engage with science. Indeed, she chose to complete a Bachelor of Advanced Science majoring in Physics at University. And even though she was considering a double major including chemistry, we won’t fault her for taking the easy road and sticking to a single major!

In order to get some real world experience she completed two summer programs with our scientists where she collected her own data with the telescope at Parkes and the array of telescopes at Narrabri, she even used this opportunity to be get published.

Not only did she spend valuable time in the field where she could get her hands dirty and experience the realities of modern research, she also had the opportunity to rub shoulders with inspirational scientists like our own Dr Julie Banfield and Dr Jill Rathborne.

Oh and she got to take a hayride on the world famous ‘Dish’ and take some memorable pictures.

Ever wanted to know the perks of being a scientist? How about riding the world famous Dish as it completes a “hayride” with you on board? from left to right: James Neild, Daniel Reardon, Tiffany Day, Claire-Elise Green, Sarah Hegarty. Image: Dr Yiannis Gonidakis

Ever wanted to know the perks of being a scientist? How about riding the world famous ‘Dish’ as it completes a “hayride” with you on board? From left to right: James Neild, Daniel Reardon, Tiffany Day, Claire-Elise Green, Sarah Hegarty. Image: Dr Yiannis Gonidakis

Through all these experiences and with the example set by her mentors like Dr Cunningham, Dr Dawson and Dr Rathborne, Claire-Elise developed into a scientist with a passion for encouraging more women to try science, as she says – they tend to “rock at it”.

Before she departs for Europe and the next stage of her research career, she hopes to find some time to indulge in her favourite pastimes: tending her vegetable and herb gardens and enjoying a bit of the old ‘Crafternoon tea’ (that’s an afternoon tea coupled with crafts if you are unfamiliar with the term). When you are searching for the answers to the some of the universe’s biggest questions, it pays to stay grounded.

You can hear more about Claire-Elise’s research in her own words on Thinkable.org. Don’t forget to vote for her while you are there.


A new antenna for old friends: celebrating 55 years of AUS-US space communication

NEW VISTAS: Deep Space Station 35 will operate for many decades. We can only begin to imagine what future discoveries it might make. Credit: Adam McGrath

NEW VISTAS: Deep Space Station 35 will operate for many decades. We can only begin to imagine what future discoveries it might make. Credit: Adam McGrath

It’s been a momentous couple of days in the history of Australian space exploration. Just yesterday, the newest antenna in NASA’s Deep Space Network was officially commissioned at our Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex, five years to the day from its original ground breaking ceremony.

DAY OR NIGHT: Deep Space Station 35 will be operating 24/7 to help make discoveries in deep space.

DAY OR NIGHT: Deep Space Station 35 will be operating 24/7 to help make discoveries in deep space.

The new dish, Deep Space Station 35, incorporates the latest in Beam Waveguide technology: increasing its sensitivity and capacity for tracking, commanding and receiving data from spacecraft located billions of kilometres away across the Solar System.

The Canberra Complex is one of three Deep Space Network stations capable of providing two-way radio contact with robotic deep space missions. The Complex’s sister stations are located in California and Spain. Together, the three stations provide around-the-clock contact with over 35 spacecraft exploring the solar system and beyond. You may remember this technology being utilised recently for the Rosetta and Philae comet landing; and for communicating with the ever so far-flung New Horizons spacecraft on its journey past Pluto.

"Does it get Channel two?"

“Does it get Channel Two?”

As a vital communication station for these types of missions, the new antenna will make deep space communication for spacecraft and their Earth-bound support staff even easier.

But don’t put away the space candles just yet. For today marks the 55 anniversary of the signing of the original space communication and tracking agreement signed between Australia and the United States, way back on the 26th February 1960.

It is a partnership that has that has led to many historic firsts and breakthrough discoveries – the first flybys of Mercury and Venus, the vital communication link and television coverage of the first Moonwalk, robotic rover landings on (and amazing views from) the surface of Mars, the first ‘close-ups’ of the giant outer planets and first-time encounters with worlds such as Pluto.

The first ever Moon landing: a momentous occasion, broadcast around the world thanks to the Australian-US partnership.

The first ever Moon landing: a momentous occasion, broadcast around the world thanks to the Australian-US partnership.

So, we say welcome to the newest addition to the Deep Space Network and happy birthday to our space-relationship with the US. Here’s to another fifty five years of success!

P.S. We couldn’t finish the blog without including this little gem:

A famous photobomb, taken during the antennae's construction.

A famous photobomb, taken during the antennae’s construction.


Viva Parkes-Vegas!

Viva Parkes-Vegas!

When stars collide: Elvis meets The Dish

By Glen Nagle

The town of Parkes, NSW – home of our famous Parkes Radio Telescope – has slipped on its Blue Suede Shoes.

In the second week of January each year, Parkes marks the birthday of Elvis Presley with a massive festival celebrating everything Elvis. It started over 20 years ago as a one-day get together of just a few hundred fans. In 2015, the festival has grown to cover a week of events, shows, parades and exhibits and over 15,000 visitors more than doubling the town’s population.

Along with one of the largest collections of Elvis memorabilia on permanent display at the Henry Parkes Visitor Centre (donated by Wiggles performer, Greg Page), the Parkes Elvis Festival is one of the town’s major icons.

The other great icon of course is the Dish – our very own Parkes radio telescope – so combining these two great icons into one stellar event was always going to be, quite literally, a match made in Heaven.

'Return to sender' took on a new meaning for the Dish last night.

‘Return to sender’ took on a new meaning for the Dish last night.

On Wednesday, 7th January an inaugural concert was held at the Dish to help mark the opening night of the Festival – and to celebrate what would have been the King’s 80th birthday the following day.

Starring popular Elvis tribute artist, Shakin’ Rick Mackaway, and backed by the fabulous rock band, The Wilsonics, the dinner and show night attracted hundreds of people from across the region and as far and wide as Canberra, Wollongong, Sydney, Adelaide and Melbourne.

Storm clouds threatened earlier in the day, but nothing was going to rain on this parade of love for the King and the Dish. The clouds almost magically bypassed the telescope and the brightest stars in heaven came out for an incredible night of songs, dancing and laughter against the impressive backdrop of Australia’s iconic radio telescope.

Shakin' Rick, rockin' in to the night.

Shakin’ Rick, rockin’ in to the night.

Continuing to observe the heavens throughout the show, the Dish even performed during the intermission with several large moves enthralling the audience and provoking  questions about both the science behind, and the history of, the Dish.

As the evening came to a close with a final encore performance and the audience departed, the number one question was, “Are you going to do it again next year?!”

Hmmm? Elvis and the Dish 2! Two icons, exciting audiences everywhere with music and astronomy.

The possibilities are endless. Watch this space.


Waking Up to New Horizons

Nicholas Kachel:

Our Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex just received a signal, sent at the speed of light, from 4.8 billion kilometres away. Who was it from? What was it about? Find out below…

Originally posted on Universe @ CSIRO:

New Horizons' flies past Pluto in this artists' rendition. Image: NASA/JHUAPL New Horizons’ flies past Pluto in this artists’ rendition. Image: NASA/JHUAPL

I guess we all love to sleep in on a Sunday morning, maybe just snoozing under the doona, laying there for a few hours before getting up for a late brunch. Ah! Luxury.

On Sunday 7th December 2014, the New Horizons spacecraft, 5 billion kilometres away from the warmth of Earth, had little time to sleep in. It was ‘wake up’ day. The final awakening from hibernation for the next 2 years until well after its encounter with rapidly approaching dwarf planet, Pluto, set for the 14th July 2015.

Waiting back on Earth to hear the spacecraft’s morning ‘alarm’ go off was the giant 70 metre antenna dish at the CSIRO-managed, Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex – Deep Space Station 43 (DSS43).

Deep Space Station 43 in Canberra receiving the 'wake up' call from the New Horizons spacecraft. Image: CDSCC/CSIRO Deep Space Station 43 in Canberra receiving the ‘wake up’ call from the New…

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The Adventures of Rosetta and Philae

UPDATE 16/03/2015: Our Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex (CDSCC) continues to provide tracking support to the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Rosetta spacecraft as it studies Comet 67P. As the area that the Philae lander probe is believed to be located in receives more sunlight over the next few months, Rosetta will make occasional attempts to listen for a wakeup call and CDSCC, along with the ESA station at New Norica, near Perth, will be waiting to hear any news.

Artist's impression of the Philae lander on the surface of the comet. Image: ESA

The European Space Agency is set to make a daring attempt to land the Philae probe on the surface of an icy comet.

The giant antenna dishes of the Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex are supporting the European Space Agency’s Rosetta spacecraft, relaying data that the refrigerator-sized Philae probe has commenced its descent to the unknown surface of Comet 67-P Churyumov-Gerasimenko.

Nearly 450 million kilometres from Earth and travelling at 18 kilometres per second, the bizarre ice, dust and rock strewn surface of the 5 kilometre long, 10 billion tonne comet called Churyumov-Gerasimenko will be stage for one of the most daring landing attempts in the history of space exploration.

The Rosetta spacecraft drops off the Philae lander for a 7 hour descent towards the comet's surface. Image: ESA

After a 10-year journey, the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Rosetta spacecraft arrived at the comet (also known as Comet 67P) in August 2014. For the past several months Rosetta scientists have been using the spacecraft’s instruments to analyse and photograph the comet’s surface looking for a potential landing site. Several candidate locations were chosen but one, ‘Site J’, seemed to present the best chance for a successful touchdown of Rosetta’s ‘Philae’ probe on the comet’s unexplored surface.

Comet 67P Churyumov Gerasimenko is a relative newcomer to the inner solar system, possibly originating from the Oort Cloud. Image: ESA

Site J, now called Agilkia (after an island in the Nile River), however, only offers the instrument-laden Philae lander a 75% chance of a safe touchdown at 3.02am (AEDST) on Thursday 13th November. Low gravity, car-sized boulders, 30 metre cliffs, deep holes and an unknown surface composition are just some hazards that the unaided robotic probe will have to face.

Keeping an eye on events as they unfold will be the giant antenna dishes of NASA’s Deep Space Network and those of the European Space Agency, which have tracked the spacecraft throughout its 10 year adventure.

Deep Space Station 34 in Canberra is supporting the European Space Agency's daring comet mission. Image: NASA/JPL

At the CSIRO-managed Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex (CDSCC), Deep Space Station 34 (DSS34) will listen in on relayed signals from the Rosetta mothercraft as it releases the Philae probe on a 7-hour descent towards the comet’s surface. Along withESA’s New Norcia antenna near Perth, separation of the two craft will be confirmed late Wednesday evening (12th November). DSS34 will provide ongoing back-up communication coverage between the Rosetta/Philae spacecraft and the anxious science team located at ESA’s mission control centre in Darmstadt, Germany.

The path Philae will take to the comet's surface. Image: ESA

As the Earth continues to turn and the spacecraft fall out of Australia’s view, the Canberra and New Norcia antennas will hand over to sister stations in Spain and Argentina for the last leg of the journey and the historic touchdown signal on Thursday morning (13th November).

Follow the adventures of Rosetta and Philae. Image: ESA

The European Space Agency has been doing a remarkable job engaging the public in this great adventure. You can following along with the events of Rosetta and Philae’s great adventure on their mission blog. ESA is also broadcasting live coverage of the descent and landing. Updates also via Twitter – Rosetta | Philae

This originally appeared on the CSIRO Universe blog.


Make our ASKAP telescope a star of the night sky

By Emily Lehmann

There’s a new star in the making in the world of astronomy, with our Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder (ASKAP) named as a finalist in The Australian Innovation Challenge’s Manufacturing, Construction and Infrastructure category*.

We recently shared some of the first images produced  by the amazing ASKAP telescope. It comprises a cluster of 36 radio dishes that work in conjunction with a powerful supercomputer to form what is, in effect, a single composite radio telescope a massive six kilometres across.

This allows it to survey the night sky very quickly, taking panoramic snapshots over 100 times the size of the full moon (as viewed from Earth, of course!).

One of the ASKAP radio dishes, located in a remote area of Western Australia.

One of the ASKAP radio dishes, located in a remote area of Western Australia.

The world-leading facility is revolutionising astronomy, and this award nomination is a welcome recognition. You can vote for it here – just scroll down to the bottom of the page.

Now, for all you space cadets, here’s five astronomical facts about why ASKAP is out of this world and a sure-fire winner:

  1. ASKAP’s 36 radio dishes, each 12 metres in diameter, give it the capacity to scan the whole sky and make it sensitive to whisper-quiet signals from the Milky Way.
  2. ASKAP is an outstanding telescope in its own right, as well as a technology demonstrator for the Square Kilometre Array (SKA). This pioneering technology will make ASKAP the fastest radio telescope in the world for surveying the sky.
  3. Once built, the SKA will comprise of a vast army of radio receivers distributed over tens to hundreds of kilometres in remote areas of Western Australia and Africa.
  4. The SKA will generate five million million bytes of information in its first day. That’s almost as many grains of sand on all of the world’s beaches.
  5. ASKAP is located in the remote Murchison Shire of Western Australia, which was chosen because there is hardly any human activity and so little background radio noise.

ASKAP is one of four CSIRO projects already in the running for different categories in the Oz’s Innovation Challenge (we’ve also written about swarm sensing and Direct Nickel). You can #voteCSIRO for any and all of them – just follow the links from the Challenge’s home page!


Under a blood red moon … or not

We asked, and you surely delivered. We put out a call for your photos of the lunar eclipse, and got so many that for a moment we were afraid we might break Facebook. Here are some of our favourites.

It was a little cloudy in Melbourne, but Rhonda Baum still managed to sneak a shot through the gloom.

Eclipse through clouds

Image by Rhonda Baum

Clear skies in Port Lincoln helped Peter Knife get this.

Lunar eclipse Port Lincoln

Image by Peter Knife

Meanwhile, in Albury, the eclipse really turned it on for Petra de Ruyter.

Eclipse from Albury

Image by Petra de Ruyter

And Tamworth lived up to its claim to be Big Sky Country.

Lunar eclipse from Tamworth

Image by Ekiama Apalisok-Brice

Some managed to catch the purple tones.

Purple moon

Image by Lisa Belgrave

Lunar eclipse purple

Image by Samantha Bright

Others managed to catch tones we found a little surprising. There’s always one, isn’t there, Peter Feeney?

Green moon

Image by Peter Feeney

We got images from Japan.

Lunar eclipse Japan

Image by Ivy B Ueama

And Indonesia.

Lunar eclipse Indonesia

Image by Muhammad Hasbi Alfarizi

We got spectacular montages.

Lunar eclipse montage

Image by Kelly Wilson

But for some of us, the weather didn’t co-operate at all. Kim Cook was able to remind those of us who missed out that clouds can be beautiful too.

Sunset clouds

Image by Kim Cook

But if we’re honest, we have to admit that Ali Ceyhan spoke for all of us who didn’t get to see it.

Lunar eclipse meme

Image by Ali Ceyhan

Next time, next time … And our sincere thanks to all of you for your photos.


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