Got a question? Give us a holler.

By Jennifer Phillips

What does a dung beetle look like? Is this material fire-resistant? What research are you conducting in the field of renewable energy?

These are just some of the types of questions the friendly folk in our Client Relations contact centre regularly help find answers to. With 30,000 enquiries coming their way every year, they know A LOT about our science (and lots of other weird and wonderful things for that matter).

To understand first hand what it’s like to work on the end of our hotline, this week our Chief Executive Megan Clark jumped in to field some of your burning questions.

L-R Our Client Relations Manager Claire Manson showing our Chief Executive Megan Clark the ropes

L-R Our Contact Centre Manager Claire Manson showing our Chief Executive Megan Clark the ropes

As she quickly learnt, people contact us about all sorts of things. We’ve been at the forefront of Australian science since 1926. So when people want to go straight to the source, they tend to turn to us. Here are just some of the hot topics we regularly respond to:

Keeping you healthy
We love that Australians want to be healthier. This was made abundantly clear when our Total Wellbeing Diet book was first published. It sold a million copies and almost sent our phone system into meltdown. The release of BARLEYmax caused a similar reaction, with people calling in straight from their local supermarket aisle wanting to get their hands on the supergrain.

Testing, testing
We’re used to being contacted about our testing services, but every now and then we field a request that catches us off guard.  Like the time a caller asked if we could test the nature of an unidentified ‘floatie’ in her beverage. While this (unfortunately) fell outside our remit, we do offer many other testing services for Australian companies – from assessing the bushfire risk of a dwelling, to measuring the slip-factor at the local pool.

I’ve got an invention
We often hear from entrepreneurial members of the public who fancy themselves as the next Thomas Edison. We’ve been approached about animal-human transmogrification, invisibility shrouds and time-travelling devices, to name a few. While we weren’t able to help on these occasions our Small and Medium Enterprise Engagement Centre can assist businesses that want to use science to gain competitive advantage, improve profitability and help their business grow.

When I grow up…
Out of all the enquiries we receive, our most heart-warming often come in the form of letters from the next generation of budding scientists. Our most famous correspondent was seven-year-old Sophie, who recently wrote to us politely asking if we could make her a dragon. Our generous 3D printing experts kindly obliged. No biggie.


This is just a small insight into how we help Australians connect with our science in all kinds of wonderful and powerful ways. Contact us via CSIRO’s website or:


Cattle industry swings behind safety gate

Cattle yards play a huge part in our local farming industry. In fact, with over 28 million head of cattle grazing on our big brown land, there are more cows in Australia than people.

Not only are our cows big in numbers, they are also big in size. Weighing in at up to 450kg, the risk of our bovine friends causing serious injury, and even death, is very real – to the point where cattle handling is one of the most hazardous jobs in the livestock industry.

That’s why this National Farm Safety Week, we’re revisiting a cattle gate which was purpose built to keep our farmers safe.

Designed by NSW farmer Edward Evans, SaferGate swings away from the operator when an animal charges it. This time two years ago we put the gate through rigorous testing. How did we do this? We thought we’d use our very own ‘crash test cow’. See how it went down:

Since our bovine testing rook place in 2012, SaferGate has hit the market and been installed in over 100 cattle fences around the country.

Australian Agricultural Co’s chief operating officer Troy Setter, said his company had installed some SaferGate units last year, which had already prevented potential injury to one of his livestock staff when a beast struck the gate she was attempting to close.

“If it was a normal gate, she would have been hit and possibly seriously injured, however the SaferGate simply folded away,” Mr Setter said. “Stopping just one injury makes the investment worthwhile,” he said.

Read more about the development of SaferGate or get involved in National Farm Safety Week.


Harnessing the power of waves

Ocean waves are one of the most powerful natural forces on our planet. Dense with energy, they pack a lot of punch and travel enormous distances across our oceans.  What’s more, they’re very reliable – it is very easy to predict which way a wave will move.

It’s for these reasons that waves are being touted as the next big thing in renewable energy.

In fact, our scientists have conducted modelling that shows that waves have the potential to play a large part in Australia’s future energy mix. They could supply 10 per cent of our energy by 2050 – enough to power a city the size of Melbourne.

Ocean wave

While wave energy is an exciting possibility, the way we harness this power is still an emerging technology. More research needs to be done to understand exactly how ocean wave extraction will work and the potential impact it could have on marine environments.

The good news is that this will now be possible thanks to a $1.3 million grant announced by the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA).  This funding will allow us to develop an online ‘wave energy atlas’ – an important step towards realising wave energy projects off Australian shores.

The atlas will pull together data from weather mapping, satellites, measuring stations and other sources to allow users to assess the feasibility of wave power stations in different locations. It will also display geographic information on marine usage, including stretches of oceans that are heritage listed, marine parks and shipping lanes.

With almost 80 per cent of Australia’s population living on the coast, wave energy presents a huge possibility for our country. This new resource will allow us to make informed decisions about how to best take advantage of this powerful force.

The project will be carried out in stages over the next three years and is expected to be completed in 2017. Read more about it on the ARENA website


Five uses for WiFi even we didn’t see coming

CSIRO_Wifi_highres-01-01 Remember the internet of the 90s? When browsing online meant being stuck at your desk with your whiz-bang 56k modem. It was an era without smartphones, without tablets – some might say, without freedom.

Luckily the clever folks in our labs came up with a little something called WiFi using the same mathematics that astronomers initially applied to piece together the waves from black holes (for more on the WiFI story click on our handy infographic on the right).

While WiFi has given us the freedom to work wirelessly in our homes, offices and out-and-about, it has also inspired a few other – err, interesting – innovations. Here’s a few that even we didn’t see coming:

  1. No more queuing for beer at the footy – thanks to a digital upgrade at Adelaide Oval, sports fans won’t even have to get out of their seats to order a drink. Or hot chips.
  2. Keeping Rover happy – this WiFi enabled system is a fully autonomous robotic dog sitter complete with video conferencing capabilities, remote tug-o-war, ball fetch mechanism, and treat dispenser.
  3. The humble bathroom scale has taken a leap forward – why waste energy (and calories) having to get up to manually record your weight when your wireless bathroom scale can do it for you?
  4. Did someone say bionic butler? For a couple of hundred thou’, this guy will get you a drink and even flip your pancakes.
  5. Yep, it’s a WiFi rabbit. We’re sure he’s useful in some way. We just can’t figure out what it is yet.

Find out more about how we invented and patented wireless LAN technology on our website.


Climate models – why they’re not just hot air

We rely a lot on climate models. They not only help us understand our present climate, but also allow us to understand possible future conditions and how different regions of our planet are likely to be impacted by climate change.

Having access to this information is vital for the community, government and industries to make informed decisions – sectors like tourism, farming and transportation to name a few.

As useful as these tools are, the reality is that the Earth’s climate system is incredibly complicated. It is affected by an infinite number of variations in the atmosphere, land surface, oceans, ice, and biosphere.  How these factors interact with one another, and our socio-economic decisions, further complicates the issue.

Our climate system is affected by variations in the atmosphere, land surface, oceans, ice and biosphere.

Our climate system is affected by variations in the atmosphere, land surface, oceans, ice and biosphere.

In the absence of a twin Earth to use as an experimental control, simulations are the only method we have to understand the future.

Using observed data, advanced algorithms and software systems, scientists have been developing and refining these valuable climate models for years. However in recent times, there has been conjecture about a key aspect of the reliability of these models; whether they are accurately predicting temperature trends?

A new study, published today in Nature Climate Change, shows that yes in fact, they are.

According to the study’s lead author Dr James Risbey, the key to evaluating decadal climate variations  is recognising the difference between climate forecasts and climate projections.

He explains that climate forecasts track the detailed evolution of a range of factors, including natural variations like El Niño and La Niña (which put simply is, warm water sloshing around the ocean). This is important because in El Niño and La Niña dominated periods, temperature trends will naturally speed up and slow down.

climate model

A visualisation of temperature projections for a mid-level greenhouse gas emission scenario (ACCESS)

“Climate projections, on the other hand, capture natural variations, but have no information on their sequence and timing. Since these can impact the climate on a short timescale as much as human activities, their omission from projections creates a mismatch with observed trends. In other words, comparing the two wouldn’t pass the old ‘apples with apples’ test,” he said.

For this latest study, James and his colleagues looked at a range of different climate models that were in phase with natural variability. In doing so, they were able to make meaningful comparisons between model projections and observed trends.

Their analysis showed that in these instances climate models have been very accurate in predicting trends in our climate over the past half century. In other words, climate change models are a lot more than hot air.

Fine out more about our research into climate in our recent report State of the Climate: 2014.

Media Contact: Simon Torok +61 409 844 302 or simon.torok@csiro.au


Three ways we’re helping combat diabetes

When it comes to our greatest fears, we’re not a particularly logical bunch. Surveys commonly show that we tremble at the thought of public speaking, creepy crawlies or visiting the dentist.

Diabetes_Book_CoverV2

While we understand that these fears are irrational, these aspects of life still seem to get our stomach churning.
Conversely, one area many of us don’t seem too worried about is our health. In particular, the very real risk of developing diabetes.

A new survey has shown that nearly 80 per cent of Australian adults do not believe they are at risk of developing type 2 diabetes. This is despite evidence that over 2 million of us already have pre-diabetes and are at high risk, and many more Australians are at medium risk of being diagnosed with this serious condition.

While these figures are concerning, the good news is that in almost 60 per cent of cases, type 2 diabetes can be prevented or delayed through early detection or lifestyle changes. Making simple adjustments to reduce weight and improve health can make a huge difference to your outlook.

This is where we come in. Through our research, we’re coming up with practical ways to help everyday Australians combat diabetes. These include:

  1. Our Diabetes Diet and Lifestyle Plan –  a guide to help Australians make the best diabetes management choices, in order to live full and satisfying lives. It’s got all sorts of helpful info, including how the glycemic index works.
  2. Our Diabetes Recipe Book this collection of recipes will help you manage your weight and feed your family and friends healthy, satisfying and tasty food. It contains a variety of yummy meals such as this teriyaki pork and stir fried greens.
  3. Our research is leading to new products that are keeping you healthy such as BARLEYmax – a natural wholegrain with enhanced nutritional benefits. BARLEYmax contains twice the dietary fibre of regular grains, four times the resistant starch and has a low GI.
Grilled salmon

Grilled salmon with crunchy cabbage salad from the CSIRO and Baker IDI diabetes recipe book.

This week is National Diabetes Week, which aims to raise awareness of the seriousness and prevalence of type 2 diabetes. Check your risk here or learn more about other ways  CSIRO is keeping you healthy.


From critters to creeks – everything you need to know about our sunburnt country

Whether it’s bagging a barramundi, eye-balling an emu, or sitting under a snow gum, Australians love getting out amongst nature, and our scientists are no different. For nearly 90 years we’ve been counting, tracking, measuring, recording, and analysing Australia’s amazing plants and animals. And in that time, you’ll be glad to hear we’ve learnt a thing or two. In fact, we’ve learnt so much we’ve written a whole book about them!

Front cover of the CSIRO's Biodiversity BookLaunched today, Biodiversity: Science and Solutions for Australia aims to provide the latest scientific knowledge on Australia’s biodiversity in an engaging and clear format. The book describes the ancient origins and unique features of Australia’s plants, animals and ecosystems, and looks at how they are currently tracking. It highlights indigenous perspectives on biodiversity and describes how Australia’s biodiversity interacts with agriculture, the resources sector, cities and with our changing global environment. Perhaps most importantly, it also identifies practical solutions for managing Australia’s globally unique natural assets.

We’re so keen to share what we’ve learnt that we’ve made the book available for free. You can download your free copy from www.csiro.au/biodiversitybook. The book is available as PDFs or as an interactive eBook, which contains interviews with the authors, links to additional videos, animations and articles, and detailed information about every species mentioned in the book via the Atlas of Living Australia.

Prefer to watch and listen rather than read? Then the good news for you is that today we’re also launching a series of video interviews that will give you an insight into different aspects of biodiversity – from farming, to forestry to fishing. If you like what you see and hear you can then download the relevant chapter to learn more.

First up is an interview with Dr Steve Morton who explains what biodiversity is and why it is important to all of us, often for different reasons.


The spice is right: how curry and the cloud may improve Alzheimer’s testing

By Carrie Bengston, James Davidson and Olivier Salvado

Mmm . . . lovely! A hot Indian curry is simmering away on the stove on a wintry night. The smell of spices fills the kitchen. One of the spices is turmeric, from the ginger family. Its vibrant yellow colour comes from the compound curcumin which is finding a use in clinical tests for Alzheimers disease (AD).

Who knew? Soon everyone will! We’re presenting our research this week at a major conference in Copenhagen, AAIC2014.

Indian curry in a dish

Curry night! The golden yellow spice turmeric contains curcumin – a key ingredient of a new eye test for Alzheimer’s

A clinical trial of the spice-infused eye test is being led by our own Dr Shaun Frost and team, with WA’s Edith Cowan University, US company NeuroVision Imaging, and the McCusker Alzheimer’s Research Foundation in Perth. Several hundred volunteers have taken part. They include healthy people, mildly cognitively impaired people and patients with AD. It’s all part of the Australian Imaging Biomarkers and Lifestyle study of Aging (AIBL)

The trial asks volunteers to come along to two visits for retinal fluorescence imaging, ie an eye scan. This is quick and painless. Patients sit in front of a specialised camera and a photo is taken of the retina at the back of their eye.

Patient having eye scanned by researcher

Dr Shaun Frost takes a photo of the back of a patient’s eyes, not for Instagram but for a clinical trial

Between visits, volunteers eat some curcumin which binds to beta-amyloid plaques, the sticky proteins that indicate Alzheimers, and fluoresces. The plaques (if there are any) show up in the eye scans as bright spots which can be counted and measured. The data is then used to calculate a special number for each patient, a retinal amyloid index (RAI), and compared between healthy, mildly cognitively impaired and AD patients.

Bright spots showing Alzheimer's plaques in retinal scan

Amyloid plaques, a sign of Alzheimer’s, show up in retinal scan as fluorescent spots as curcumin binds to them

Encouragingly, as we announced this week, early results show the amount of plaque in the retina closely mirrors the amount in the brain. If confirmed, retinal imaging may be the beginnings of an easy, non-invasive test for early detection of AD. Combined with results of cognitive tests and other markers it could help doctors diagnose AD more confidently.

Eye scans like this also find plaques when they’re smaller than the ones in brain scans, potentially finding signs of AD earlier – maybe up to 20 years before cognitive symptoms appear. If diagnosed, AD patients could start treatment sooner and have regular eye scans to see which treatments work best for them.

Brain imaging on the cloud

From curry to the cloud. More research presented this week is about more accurately interpreting brain images sometimes used to diagnose AD.

To get a brain scan, a patient lies on a bed in a large machine like a Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) or Positron Emission tomography (PET) scanner. These machines record a series of images through the brain, which are then visually checked by a radiologist who compiles a report for the patient’s doctor.

This visual inspection can be subjective, tedious and time consuming. But recent advances in scientific computing and machine learning allows systems to accurately measure features of the 3D scan, such as brain size or concentration of a tracer molecule, that support a diagnosis.

Using these techniques, a new trend is emerging for improving radiologists’ productivity. Scanners and specialised medical software can report quantitative values and compare them to the values expected for normal, healthy patients – just like blood test results from a pathology lab do.

Our researchers, led by health imaging specialist Associate Prof Olivier Salvado, have just released a new cloud computing application, MILXCloud, that automatically delivers standardised radiology reports.

brain surface showing the concentration of a radioactive dye imaged by PET scan

Our new software, MILXCloud, automates brain scan analysis and reporting on the Cloud

Users will be able to upload a PET scan and within 15 minutes be emailed a one page quantitative report showing a diagram of the brain with colour coded values compared with what’s normal. This data will help support diagnosis by the radiologist and enhance delivery of eHealth services.

Whether it’s curry or the Cloud, the future of Alzheimer’s detection sure looks bright.

Media: Andreas Kahl  |  0407 751 330  |  andreas.kahl@csiro.au


Bush food, people, country and all things

By Andrea Wild 

The Arrente people are the traditional owners of a vast expanse of land that surrounds Alice Springs, rich with mountain ranges, waterholes and gorges. Their long history with the region has given the Arrente community a deep knowledge and understanding of the landscape and natural environment.

We’ve been working with a senior Arrernte woman, Veronica Perrurle Dobson (AM) and other expert knowledge holders, to gain a better understanding of local indigenous knowledge systems, and how they can be applied to natural resource management.

The study came about because scientists and non Indigenous Australians often regard nature and culture as separate entities. They tend to think of resource management as something that people do from outside the ecosystem, rather than within it.

The Arrente people have a distinctly different worldview. In Arrente eyes, the relationship between people, resource species, land, and spiritual domains are interconnected.

Working with Veronica, two of our scientists Fiona Walsh and Josie Douglas have developed a tool to describe this philosophy called the Anpernirrentye (un-burn-i-rrin-cha) framework.

The framework, compiled from traditional sand drawings by Veronica, reveals three major interrelated domains of the Arrernte people’s world view: Apmere (Country), Tyerrtye (People), and Altyerre (Dreaming, Creation time).

traditional sand drawings by Veronica

Traditional sand drawings by Veronica

Veronica herself describes Anpernirrentye as: “The connections between plants, society, country, and laws and all things. It describes how these are related. These are related through skin and kin names. I want people to see how everything is connected. It is the connections that identify us as who we are.”

The research is informing conventional natural resource management practices, allowing land managers to reassess their approach. Through this research they are able to better draw on the deep knowledge and experiences of Indigenous people.

NAIDOC week celebrates the history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Read more about the Anpernirrentye framework, or watch the video.

At CSIRO we are working alongside Indigenous people and organisations to better collaborate and exchange scientific and indigenous knowledge, improving the health of our country and communities.

Fiona with Veronica

Fiona with Veronica


Soaking up the sun’s rays

Ever dreamt of charging your phone on the fly? Or thought about how the plants outside your house could power your home? Imagination could become reality thanks to Dr Scott Watkins and the clever folks in our flexible electronics team who are creating new ways to soak up and store the sun’s rays.

Watch this video to discover how photovoltaic cells could turn every surface – from your jacket to your car door to your rooftop – into a source of energy.

This post originally appeared on GE Reports

Want to know more? This solar energy project has been made possible by the Victorian Organic Solar Cell Consortium (VICOSC), which is a partnership between CSIRO, the University of Melbourne and Monash University. Learn more here.


Keeping your wine delish

 

As the weather turns dark and dreary, many of us are choosing to stay indoors and seek comfort in a nice bottle of red. After all, when it’s drizzling outside it’s hard to beat a rich pinot by the fireplace.

In Australia, we’re lucky to enjoy some of the best wine in the world. In fact, Australia’s wine and grape industry has been one of the nation’s great agricultural success stories. Last year we produced over a billion litres of wine. Shiraz was our number one drop of choice, followed by a Cabernet Sauvignon.

It’s clear, when it comes to wine, we’ve struck it rich. But many wine enthusiasts don’t realise one of the reasons for this is the science behind our grapevines.

We’ve been looking at how different rootstocks – the underground part of the vine – reduce the impact of salty soils on the appearance and taste of wine. While the prospect of ‘salty wine’ might sound like a first world problem, it’s actually becoming a widespread concern in viticulture as climate change brings longer, hotter and drier summers.

Our scientists recently carried out trials in South Australia that examined the salt tolerance of eight commercially available rootstocks.

“We had a particular interest in how much salt might have accumulated in the juice and carried through to the wine, and just what that accumulated salt did in terms of how the wine looks and tastes,” said principal investigator Dr Rob Walker.

Dr Rob Walker

Dr Rob Walker (photo credit: Carl Davies)

This led to the creation of a rootstock Salt Tolerance Index based on characteristics such as yield, leaf area, sodium concentrations and wine colour density. Salt tolerant rootstocks appear to work by limiting chloride accumulation in leaves and fruit through lower root to shoot transport.

As well as providing an insight into saltiness, the study also provided valuable data about other wine attributes related to the rootstocks, such as differences in flavour intensity and colour.

It is hoped that the research, funded by the Australian Grape and Wine Authority, and the wine sensory evaluation carried out in collaboration with the Australian Wine Research Institute, will lead to the development of new rootstock types designed specifically for Australian conditions.

Read more about how we’re keeping your wine tasty (and not too salty) on our website.


The art of science: How we helped unveil a Picasso masterpiece

The art world was in a frenzy last week when it was reported there was a painting hidden beneath one of Pablo Picasso’s first masterpieces, The Blue Room. Using advances in x-ray imaging, scientists and curators revealed a mysterious portrait of a bearded bow-tie clad man with his face resting on his hand.

The painting’s secret was out, but what was less known is the painstaking work – and Aussie innovation – that led to its discovery.

In 2012, The Blue Room paid a short, hushed visit to the Wilson Synchrotron Lab in the US, where Cornell University scientists used an x-ray detector to search for the suspected secret hidden underneath the painting. The priceless work of art was then scanned using an x-ray fluorescence (XRF) detector called Maia to supplement the infrared imaging that had taken place two years earlier.

The Blue Room, Pablo Picasso - Estate of Pablo Picasso/The Phillips Collection

The Blue Room, Pablo Picasso – Estate of Pablo Picasso/The Phillips Collection

Maia, developed by CSIRO scientists along with the US Brookhaven National Laboratory, is an exceptionally fast x-ray detector that distinguishes spectral signatures of different elements, such as mercury, iron and cobalt in complex natural samples. The technology has a huge range of potential research applications, from identifying gold and platinum formation in ore, to tracking trace metal distribution in brain tissue in neurodegenerative disease. In the art world, it can provide evidence of exactly which materials and colours artists have used in their work.

While infrared gave the most accurate images of the Picasso portrait (because it can see clean through many paints) according to Cornell’s Dr Arthur Woll, its disadvantage is that there’s a fair amount of interpretation involved in knowing what’s creating the contrasts in the images.

Infrared imaging first revealed this buried portrait underneath "The Blue Room” (Image: AP Photo/The Phillips Collection)

The buried portrait underneath ‘The Blue Room’ (Image: AP Photo/The Phillips Collection)

“That’s where XRF comes in. By giving scanners further clues about colouration, it can help them match a buried portrait with other Picasso pieces of the time, for example,” he said.

According to CSIRO’s Dr Chris Ryan, one of Maia’s developers who visited Cornell for the Picasso project, Maia is ideal for this kind of work. “It captures unprecedented spatial details very quickly, limiting risk of damage to delicate works of art,” he said.

The revelation of Picasso’s hidden painting is just the beginning for the research team. Using Cornell’s and other data, they hope piece together an even more detailed recreation of exactly what is hiding under The Blue Room.

Read more about our Maia detector technology.


Catching stars

Carol Saab:

There’s nothing better for a Monday morning than some star-gazing photography over on our Universe blog. Enjoy!

Originally posted on Universe @ CSIRO:

The stars look so vibrant that you could just reach out, catch them and put them in your pocket. But you don’t even have to step outside to see them.

They’ve already been captured by the talented photographers whose entries have been shortlisted in the ‘wide-field’ category of this year’s David Malin Awards, Australia’s premier astrophotography competition.

Shortlisted images in the ‘wide-field’ category of the 2014 David Malin Awards. Click on the photos in the gallery above for larger versions.

And these are just a taste of the amazing images and videos that have been shortlisted this year. Other categories include: theme – “the Moon”, Solar System, deep sky, and animated sequences. Head on over to the awards website to take a look at all the images and videos on the 2014 David Malin Awards shortlist.

Judging is now complete and all the winners will be announced at a special ceremony…

View original 93 more words


The first images from ASKAP reveal slices through space

Three of the dishes used by the Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder telescope.

Three of the dishes used by the Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder telescope. Image: CSIRO / Terrace Photographers

By Lisa Harvey-Smith, CSIRO

The first images from Australia’s Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder (ASKAP) telescope have given scientists a sneak peek at the potential images to come from the much larger Square Kilometre Array (SKA) telescope currently being developed.

ASKAP comprises a cluster of 36 large radio dishes that work together with a powerful supercomputer to form (in effect) a single composite radio telescope 6km across.

What makes ASKAP truly special is the wide-angle “radio cameras”, known as phased array feeds, which can take up to 36 images of the sky simultaneously and stitch them together to generate a panoramic image.

Why panoramic vision?

Traditional radio telescope arrays such as the Australia Telescope Compact Array near Narrabri, NSW, are powerful probes of deep-space objects. But their limited field of view (approximately equivalent to the full moon) means that undertaking major research projects such as studying the structure of the Milky Way, or carrying out a census of millions of galaxies, is slow, painstaking work that can take many years to realise.

The special wide-angle radio receivers on ASKAP will increase the telescope’s field of vision 30 times, allowing astronomers to build up an encyclopedic knowledge of the sky.

This technological leap will enable us to study many astrophysical phenomena that are currently out of reach, including the evolution of galaxies and cosmic magnetism over billions of years.

For the past 12 months a team of CSIRO astronomers has been testing these novel radio cameras fitted on a test array of six antennas.

The first task for the team was to test the ability of the cameras to image wide fields-of-view and thus demonstrate ASKAP’s main competitive advantage. The results were impressive!

A wide-field image of the sky taken with the ASKAP test array.

A wide-field image of the sky taken with the ASKAP test array. Image: I. Heywood/ACES team, CSIRO

One of the first test images from the ASKAP test array is seen above. The hundreds of star-like points are actually galaxies, each containing billions of stars, seen in radio waves. Using CSIRO’s new radio cameras, nine overlapping images were taken simultaneously and stitched together.

The resulting image covers an area of sky more than five times greater than is normally visible with a radio telescope. The information contained in such images will help us to rapidly build up a picture of the evolution of galaxies over several billion years.

Where next for ASKAP to look

On the back of this success, the commissioning team turned the telescope to the Sculptor or “silver coin” galaxy to test its ability to study deep-space objects.

Sculptor is a spiral galaxy like our own Milky Way, but appears elongated as it is seen almost edge-on from earth.

The Sculptor galaxy seen rotating edge-on using the ASKAP test array.

The Sculptor galaxy seen rotating edge-on using the ASKAP test array. Image: P. Serra/ACES Team, CSIRO

This image (above) shows the radio waves emitted by hydrogen gas that is swirling in an almost circular motion around the galaxy as it rotates.

The red side of the galaxy is moving away from us and the blue side is moving towards us. The speed of rotation tells us the galaxy’s mass.

The team has also tested the ability of the telescope to “weigh” the gas in very distant galaxies. The image (below) shows a grouping of overlapping galaxies called a gravitational lens.

Gravitational lens image

A cluster of galaxies aligned to form a ‘gravitational lens’ was captured using ASKAP’s test array.

Seven billion years ago, radio waves from a distant galaxy were absorbed by a foreground galaxy in this group. That signal was processed by ASKAP to form the spectrum (top right in the above image).

Although not visually pretty, this type of observation has enormous scientific value, allowing astronomers to understand how quickly galaxies use up their star-forming fuel.

The latest demonstration with the ASKAP test array is a movie (below) of layers through a cloud of gas in our Milky Way.

This series of images – similar to an MRI scan imaging slices through the human body – demonstrates the ability of the telescope to measure the intricate motions of the spiral arms of the Milky Way and other galaxies.

Building to the bigger array

These images are just the beginning of a new era in radio astronomy, starting with SKA pathfinders like ASKAP and culminating in the construction of the SKA radio telescope.

Once built, the SKA will comprise a vast army of radio receivers distributed over tens to hundreds of kilometres in remote areas of Western Australia and South Africa.

Just like ASKAP combines signals from several dishes, the SKA will use a supercomputer to build up a composite image of the sky.

Each ensemble of antennas will work together to photograph distant astronomical objects that are so faint, that they can’t be seen at all with current technology.

The SKA will thereby open up vast tracts of unexplored space to scientific study, making it a game-changer in astrophysical and cosmological research.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.


Getting crazy ants under control

By Emily Lehmann

One of the world’s most invasive pests – the yellow crazy ant – is anything but a small problem in Australia’s top end.

Called ‘crazy’ for their erratic and frantic movements, these unwelcome critters were accidentally introduced into Australia and are a threat to native wildlife including other ant species.

Their capacity for destruction has been most devastatingly felt on Christmas Island where crazy ant supercolonies have formed and killed more than 20 million red crabs.

That’s why we have been leading efforts to control and eradicate the pest ant species across northern Australia.

We're keeping these crazy critters in check.
We’re keeping these crazy critters in check.

As part of this mission, we’ve helped local company Yolngu Business Enterprises (YBE2) join the effort by developing a new service in crazy ant control.

Operating in north-east Arnhem Land, YBE2 is contracted to undertake rehabilitation work at Rio Tinto Alcan’s Gove Bauxite mine. The Gove area is ridden with yellow crazy ants.

Crazy ant infestations pose a significant challenge to mining and effective rehabilitation, as digging up the earth risks spreading them. The site needs to be continually monitored and treated to clear it of any colonies.

Through the Researchers in Business program, our ant ecologist Dr Ben Hoffmann worked with the YBE2 team on the ground to develop protocols to monitor the land, and identify and collect data to accurately map ant infestations using a GPS system.

About 200 hectares of infested area was mapped by YBE2 staff and underwent treatment. Since the project ended, a further 200 hectares has been mapped for treatment later this year.

The team gained valuable data on the impact the ants and treatments have on the local environment, which could be used to improve YBE2’s rehabilitation processes.

This research and development has given YBE2 the capacity to monitor and capture data from the land, secured them a contract to control crazy ants on the mine site and will potentially open up new business opportunities.

It’s also putting a halt to the spread of yellow crazy ants, helping to protect the Australian environment.

Read more about our work with small and medium-sized businesses or our biosecurity research.


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