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Ancient Signal Calls Out to WA

Words by: Helene Lambetsos

It was one giant step for Western Australia today, when the ground-breaking radio telescope project in remote WA picked up what other telescopes never had.

Six of the Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder dishes, living just outside of Geraldton, captured an ancient signal, dated before the birth of the solar system.

The cosmic radio waves were coming from galaxy PKS B1740-517: if this doesn’t mean too much to you, just know the signal is dated to be about five billion years old, showing how the ASKAP can detect galaxies other telescopes can’t.

“This catch shows we’re going to bag a big haul of galaxies,” research leader James Allison of the CSIRO said.

Elaine Sadler, Professor of Astrophysics at the University of Sydney and a member of the research team, plans a large ASKAP survey aimed at detecting several hundred galaxies.

“We’ll be hunting for galaxies that are five to eight billion years old, a timespan that represents a fifth of the universe’s history,” she said.

Astronomers are hoping this glimpse into older galaxies will help them understand why ten billion years ago, galaxies were making stars 10 times faster than they do now.

“We want to learn how much hydrogen galaxies had in this period for forming stars,” Professor Sadler said.

“Until now we’ve had few tools for doing that.”

The Square Kilometre Array, spanning remote WA and South Africa, will be made up of thousands of linked antennas, and be 50 times as sensitive as the best existing radio telescopes, in hopes of new discoveries.