Hi all, and welcome to the refreshed look MRO news. Some of our readers may know who I am from our last edition and some may not. So firstly, thanks for taking the time to read! My name is Rebecca and I have started with CSIRO in the role of MRO Site Entity Leader. I am aware that my title sounds somewhat ambiguous, but what it really means is that I am the manager of Boolardy. I know many of you are familiar with our Brett and I hasten to add that I am not a replacement for Brett; myself and my team are additional hands to assist with the establishment of the SKA on Boolardy. If you have met me, you have probably also met my esteemed colleague Geoff who works with me in the Site Entity team.
So with all that said, may I start by saying ‘what a ride’. At the start of this year there were so many things that I never thought I would hear myself say about 2020. At the top of the list is for sure COVID 19. I started with CSIRO in January this year right before the restrictions kicked in which makes starting a new job incredibly challenging. The other things that probably belong on that list would include cattle but we will come to that.
Since we have been allowed to move around our beautiful state again, I have made it my priority to spend time in the Mid-West and onsite getting to know our neighbours. I have been humbled by the generosity of time shown to myself and Geoff by those that we have met so far, thank you!
I can say the biggest activity we have had onsite in recent months was the Boolardy muster. We welcomed assistance from Boolardy’s previous pastoralist, Mark Halleen to coordinate the muster and help out for the week. I loved watching our neighbours all pitching in together and getting the job done, and my literacy skills will fail to express how impressed I was with the Whitmarsh brothers’ motorbike skills; just incredible!! We also welcomed Keros Keynes back to help the team, who loved being back on Boolardy. Thank you to our neighbours and the community for all your hard work during the muster; your cooperation and kindness was appreciated.
We really enjoyed hosting the WA Landcruiser Club at the Sports Club in the settlement in August (pictured). Many thanks to Sam for facilitating access. Nicole, Eden and Clint from the Roadhouse did an outstanding job with the catering for the event. Russell, the trip leader from the Club later reported back that they had a wonderful time and felt very spoilt. Thank you so much to the team!!
Also at the beginning of September, we were delighted to host the Governor of Western Australia, The Honourable Kim Beazley AC, and his team to Boolardy for a tour of the telescope site. The Governor was lovely - he has a great sense of humour and was very gracious. The Governor is a huge advocate for the Mid-West and we only wish we had him for longer than the few short hours on the ground.
Aside from this I cannot write my first newsletter without mentioning Emma and Ross Foulkes-Taylor who have been so accommodating in sharing their knowledge, insights and cake. Also to Bill, Will and the rest of the team at the Shire Offices for giving so freely of their time and knowledge. Thank you! We are looking forward to spending more time with you in the coming months, especially as the team grows.
Our team has also grown from two to three as you will read below, as we welcome Chris Brayton to the CSIRO team. You can read more about Chris below also.
Fast forward to November, and I and some of the team will be heading to the Murchison shindig happening on the 7th in the settlement. We look forward to catching up with some of you then.
We’d also like to know if you would be interested in attending a webinar about the SKA. Webinars and online communication have been a great and, in some cases, the only way to keep communication lines open during the global pandemic. In lieu of a face to face meeting, CSIRO recently hosted a webinar about the SKA as part of the annual Australian astronomy conference. CSIRO’s SKA Communications Officer, Annabelle Young, has suggested we could host a similar webinar event for our local MRO community. If this is something you would be interested in attending, please email Annabelle.firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rebecca Wheadon, CSIRO
Image: Rebecca and Geoff with the WA Landcruiser club at the Murchison Sports Club
I am very happy to share the news that Australia has ratified the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) Observatory Convention, taking our final step to becoming a founding member of the SKA Observatory - the intergovernmental organisation that will be responsible for awarding contracts and carrying out telescope operations. We join South Africa, Italy and the Netherlands in finalising preparations for the Observatory to be established. The United Kingdom, China and Portugal are set to complete their processes in the coming months.
In further exciting news for the project, the SKA Organisation Board has unanimously endorsed the Construction Proposal and associated Observatory Establishment and Delivery Plan. Endorsement of these foundational documents is the culmination of the design phase and is a critical step towards construction.
It is encouraging to see the project’s momentum in the current circumstances. These milestones indicate that establishment of the Observatory is imminent, which in turn should see the first stages of infrastructure on the site being built around the end of 2021.
We continue our work with the Wajarri Yamaji on developing the Indigenous Land Use Agreement (ILUA). The negotiations continue with goodwill from both parties and once finalised will provide long term sustainable benefits to the Wajarri Yamaji. Good progress is also being made on the heritage surveys. This work is vital to ensure the SKA is built in a way that avoids and protects significant Wajarri heritage sites.
COVID-19 continues to impact people all over the world and our thoughts are with everyone during this challenging time. I look forward to sharing more developments in the next MRO news. Until then, please stay safe!
David Luchetti, Australian SKA Office, DISER
IMAGE: Australia’s Governor General signing the SKA Convention
Day-to-day scheduled maintenance continues to be part and parcel of general asset preservation at the Boolardy accommodation and the MRO. This has included work on the building management system for ASKAP, the building cooling infrastructure and the Boolardy potable water bores.
Thankfully the winter rains did not have an adverse effect on the Boolardy airstrip and the project that raised the centre kept the airstrip serviceable over this period.
A feral animal program is scheduled to commence in October, following feedback about the number of feral animals seen during the recent muster on Boolardy. The muster has also focussed our attention on the boundary fence and ascertaining which areas require work.
Procurement for the Boolardy services and logistics contract should be finalised soon.
Geoff King, CSIRO
Some of our readers have mentioned they’d like an overview of the work being done across the SKA project in this “bridging” phase in-between telescope design and construction.
At a high level, as mentioned by David above, the SKA Project has maintained momentum despite the COVID situation. The international project partners, located in 15 countries, across five continents, have adapted to working online, accommodating every imaginable time-zone.
Locally, the focus of work packages is on preparations for SKA-Low. The signal processing team is working on prototyping and evaluating the available options for computing and communications technology, as well as coding a few key pieces of firmware to demonstrate its capabilities. For instance, ingesting of antenna data and separating it into frequency components using a filterbank.
The SKA Networking group has just begun an end-to-end review of the network for the Low and Mid telescopes with an emphasis on the integration of the various element networks. The network is the unseen backbone of the telescope and it supports all aspects of the SKA from control and monitoring through to making data products available to the worldwide astronomy community, via regional centres.
The Assembly and Integration Verification or AIV team, is overseeing the integration of all the parts of the telescope. This group is working on the integration testing of prototype hardware and software components in the Low PSI (Prototype System Integration) facility that is located at CSIRO in Marsfield (pictured). The aim of this activity is to identify any early integration or interface issues and establish working interactions among the development teams ahead of the next phase of integration.
Please let me know if you would like to attend a webinar about the SKA and if there is any particular area of the SKA project you’d like to hear about in the next edition of MRO News.
Annabelle Young, CSIRO
Image: Prototype system integration facility
With nearly the entire world forced into lockdown by the COVID-19 pandemic, there have certainly been challenges for the internationally distributed SKA-Low prototype array project team to get things done at the MRO.
Luckily though, the work that was done before COVID-19 took over the world, meant that both the test arrays were fully built and functional and so the team members based out of the UK, the Netherlands, Italy, India and of course Australia have been keenly studying performance as the system has progressed through the seasons. They are now focussing on how to refine designs for the next steps while leveraging regional resources.
Fortunately, with the limited impact of COVID-19 in WA, the Curtin Operations team and GCo Electrical have been able to make a few trips to the MRO for maintenance and some supporting infrastructure upgrades. Overall, the antenna arrays have largely been functioning without issue during this period with minimal intervention which has been great leading into the next phases of activity.
Raunaq Bhushan, Curtin University
Image: Milky Way over AAVS: Image credit: Michael Goh and ICRAR/Curtin
It’s been a while since our last update! For a few months, getting to site was tricky because of travel restrictions caused by COVID-19, but thankfully the MWA is well-equipped for operating remotely. Did you know that there are no people at the MWA for ~75% of the year, and that the entire team is based in Perth?
We’ve faired really well despite having even less time than usual on site and are now preparing for the next big upgrade starting mid-2021, when the telescope enters its third operational phase.
Our fieldwork coordinator and general site-sheriff Andy McPhail still loves getting out to the Murchison whenever possible to do necessary repairs, even on his 50th birthday! He and Russell Farr (the manager of Boolardy station, and an excellent chef to boot) celebrated with tiramisu and a few cold ones. Andy is currently regretting not taking any more photos on site that could be used instead for this update.
If you follow the MWA Facebook page you might have seen that some of our astronomers searched high and low for signs of alien life in over 10 million star systems. Can you guess what they found? Read more in this ICRAR article about their work.
Mia Walker, MWA, Curtin University
Image: Andrew McPhail at Boolardy on his birthday. Image credit: Russell Farr, PSG Holdings
ASKAP is preparing for a new phase of pilot surveys, due to begin within a few months. Back in August we hosted a workshop for representatives from all the international science teams, to plan future survey strategies. The scale and scope of these survey projects is such that current plans would take 10 years, observing 24/7 with no downtime! We will be working hard to combine some of the survey plans into a common set of observations to increase efficiency and ensure that discoveries keep coming.
In between pilot survey phases, our engineering and technical teams are working hard to improve the telescope itself, and the vast amount of software required to keep it running smoothly. We’re adjusting antenna counterweights, building automatic configuration scripts, tuning data processing pipelines and releasing images from pilot survey phase I every few days, as they emerge from the Pawsey supercomputing Centre in Perth.
I’m excited to report that we will soon be releasing ASKAP’s first complete map of the sky visible from the Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory. The attached image is a sneak-peek of what we will be releasing soon.
Aidan Hotan, CSIRO
Image: ASKAP's first all-sky survey, called the Rapid ASKAP Continuum Survey or RACS.
My name is Robert Hollow, I’m the Education Specialist with CSIRO Astronomy and Space Science. I always enjoy my trips to the Murchison region. One reason is the magnificent dark skies and lack of light pollution that allow stunning views of the stars.
In this new column, I plan on letting you know about some of the upcoming night sky events. I’ll also highlight an object or constellation and let you know where you can find some more information.
The night sky over the next few months is dominated by three planets, Jupiter, Saturn and Mars. In November, Jupiter and Saturn will be in the north-west sky in the constellation of Sagittarius, Jupiter being the brighter of the two.
Saturn will appear to move closer to Jupiter through November. Make sure you have a look on 19 November when the Moon will appear close to these planets then get an even better view on 17 December.
Mars is the bright red object high in the east in Pisces in November. It was at its brightest in mid-October but is still an easy object to spot and worth a view. If you want to find out more the Planetarium at Scitech has an online sky guide: https://www.scitech.org.au/explore/the-sky-tonight/
The software I used to create the image of Jupiter and Saturn is called Stellarium. It is a free sky simulator and is available in Windows and Mac OSX versions as well as an app for mobile devices. It is easy to use and great to explore the sky with: http://stellarium.org/?
Robert Hollow, CSIRO
G’day, my name is Chris Brayton and I’ve recently joined the CASS team as the Deputy Site Entity Lead for the Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory. I will be working in the MRO Site Entity team by helping to engage with the many stakeholders in and around the MRO to ensure their needs and interests are addressed.
My first month has flown by and everything I’ve learnt has got me very excited to meet the all the people and communities involved with the MRO. I am really looking forward to working with everyone as things progress to the start of construction of the SKA.
My background is in telecommunications, specifically with wireless communications engineering. I grew up with a passion for science and engineering and I am very happy to be able work with CSIRO. A Double Helix subscriber from way back, I wish I could go back in time and tell 10-year-old me what I am doing now!
I am originally from Queensland, I spent a fair bit of time growing up in Weipa up on Cape York. I relocated Perth for about 9 years ago, I think it must have been something about the sun setting in the ocean that has kept me here. Western Australia is the place I call home, but there’re a few things that haven’t changed, I’m big fan of rugby league and a Maroons and North Queensland Cowboys tragic. I’ve no clue about AFL, which can make living in WA a little awkward, except anytime someone brings up the Brisbane Lion’s threepeat (then I’ll make out like I know what I am talking about). Outside of work I am a keen gardener, (very) average golfer and a spoilt dog owner.
Chris Brayton, CSIRO
Image: The photo(s) are of me at on the Murchison River with my dog Patch at Kalbarri while on holiday a few months ago and in the office.
CSIRO acknowledges the Wajarri Yamaji as the traditional owners of the MRO site.