Hi everyone. The amount of rain the Murchison region has received for the first half of the year has made such a big change to the landscape. In each of my recent visits, there has always been something new to look at, with all the beautiful greenery popping up everywhere you look. I hope our neighbours were happy with their shares of the early rains, with no doubt more to come. Fingers crossed also for a bumper wildflower season.
With the recent inclement weather, I would like to express our gratitude to William and the roadworks team and the Shire of Murchison for the regular updates on the road conditions that allow us to safely travel to, and around Boolardy. The crew has made fantastic progress on the Carnarvon-Mullewa seal in recent months and I hope the cooler weather makes for easier going for those folks.
It was exciting to learn that Sarah Pearce has been appointed to the SKA Observatory as the SKA-Low Telescope Director for Australia. Sarah has most recently been CSIRO’s Acting Chief Scientist, and was Deputy Director of CSIRO’s Space and Astronomy business unit for nearly 10 years. Her contribution to the SKA project has already been key, as she was Australia’s science representative for negotiation of the international SKA Observatory convention.
On behalf of the CSIRO team, I’d like to wish Sarah all the very best as we say goodbye to our valued CSIRO team member and welcome her to the role of Australia’s SKA-Low Director.
Another recent and important announcement is that Antony Schinckel has also been appointed to the SKA Observatory. Ant takes up the role of Construction Director for the SKAO’s low-frequency telescope.
Many of our readers will already know Ant through his long-term involvement with the development of the MRO and CSIRO’s ASKAP, his excellent shirts, and also as the leader of the SKA program at CSIRO. We wish Ant all the very best in this important role with the SKAO team.
As Construction Director, Ant will coordinate the construction activities on the ground and help align the broader SKAO activities within Australia. While we will miss him as a CSIRO colleague, it’s now time to look to the bigger picture of constructing the SKA-Low in Australia. If that means getting used to seeing Ant wear high-viz over his Hawaiian shirts, then so be it.
We look forward to continuing to work closely with Sarah and Ant in their new roles.
We also recently welcomed the Mid-West Development Commission Board to the MRO for a visit on 24 June. It was a very cold day, but we all somehow managed to keep warm enough able give the board members a behind the scenes look at the MRO and highlight some of the recent work the instruments at the MRO have been doing. We hope that the board members enjoyed their tour and we were able to provide some insight and clarity.
It was good to see our regional stakeholders in Geraldton on 12 May and share recent news of the SKA project among the community. Ben Scandrett shares more detail, below, on the recent funding announcements by the Australian Government. This also comes with further funding increases to the Pawsey Centre which Mark Stickells will also provide more detail further on.
The Australian SKA Office hosted an online for the Australian SKA Industry Cluster (ASKAIC) on 27 May and two SKA Industry Sessions in Perth on 1 June and Geraldton on 3 June. These events are important information sessions for those businesses interested in receiving updates on the international SKA Observatory and SKA procurements going forward.
This was also an opportunity for the ASKAO to introduce the Australia’s SKA Industry Liaison Officer, Anthony Holzwart to the SKA business community. Any specific questions regarding the procurement processes for the SKA can be directed to Anthony via email.
Rebecca Wheadon, CSIRO
Image: Rebecca Wheadon, CSIRO
The SKA has officially entered the construction phase!
On 25 June, SKAO member countries approved a construction schedule for the first 10 years of the project. With activity ‘on-the-ground’ to begin in early 2022, the SKAO has already sought expressions of interest in building and operating a temporary accommodation facility for workers.
To support businesses interested in the project, my office ran two ‘industry days’ in June – in Perth and Geraldton – where local business representatives could ask questions and have their say.
The feedback we received was clear – local businesses want the opportunity to tender directly for contracts; and they want the value of local expertise in delivering larger contracts recognised. This feedback has been passed to the SKAO and they are now examining how to provide more opportunities for local and Wajarri businesses, now and in the long-run. This includes developing clearer guidance on how local and Wajarri participation in contracts delivered at the site will work.
I encourage anyone interested in applying for a potential SKA contract to visit www.industry.gov.au/SKAsuppliers. Opportunities to supply to the SKAO will increase as it establishes its Australian operations over the coming years, and this page will help navigate the procurement process to win work.
In other news, earlier this year the Australian Government announced new funding for the SKA. This will go towards Australia’s contribution to telescope construction and operations, preparing the MRO site, establishing a computing centre to process SKA data onshore, and providing fibre-optic internet for the Pia Wadjarri Remote Aboriginal Community and the Murchison Settlement. This is a great outcome as improved internet connectivity for these communities will support economic and educational opportunities.
Internationally, there is growing interest and investment in the SKA project. There are now seven members of the new SKA Observatory – Australia, China, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, South Africa, and the UK. France, Spain and Switzerland have all made positive steps to becoming members in recent months.
Momentum is really ramping up on the project and I welcome the opportunities the SKA will bring, in the construction phase and beyond.
Ben Scandrett, Executive Manager, Australian SKA Office
Last week the members of the SKAO Council met to greenlight the construction of the SKA-Low telescope in Australia and SKA-Mid telescope in South Africa from 1 July 2021. This is a huge and exciting milestone for the project, which builds on the momentum from the ratification processes for the SKAO treaty and formation of the intergovernmental organisation, the SKA Observatory, earlier this year. Procurement of major contracts will start immediately, and some industry engagements have already taken place in the past few weeks through market surveys and industry sessions for Australia in Perth and Geraldton. I am very excited to be able to watch decades of work and international collaboration be realised as the telescope starts to take shape.
For more information and to hear from SKAO Director-General Prof. Philip Diamond and SKAO Council Chairperson Dr Catherine Cesarsky please check out this link.
I am making the transition from my previous role in CSIRO to become the SKAO’s Site Construction Director for the SKA-Low Telescope. My new role will see me take on the responsibility for coordinating the construction activities of the SKA-Low telescope on the MRO and ensure that the broader SKAO construction-related activities are aligned in Australia. While I am changing hats, so to speak, I cannot emphasise enough that I see this as a real team effort to build the biggest radio telescope in the world, and that is our common goal, and we are all working together to achieve this. While I am sad to be formally leaving my friends and colleagues at CSIRO, I know that at a practical level we will be in continual contact trying to make sure the SKA is delivered and successful.
From an SKA Infrastructure perspective, the team have been busy working towards preparing the design and documentation to be ready for the start of the procurement. One of the first SKA procurements will be for the provision of a temporary camp to be established on Boolardy Station to accommodate approx. 200 people for the duration of SKA construction. This camp is the subject of the first market survey (expression of interest) and was discussed during the industry briefings held in Perth and Geraldton. Further information and details will be published on SKAO’s website, so please keep an eye out for updates.
Ant Schinckel, SKAO
Image: Industry briefing in Perth. Pic: R. Wheadon.
Thank you for the invitation to contribute to this month’s MRO newsletter.
I am Mark Stickells, the Executive Director at the Pawsey Supercomputing Research Centre, located in Kensington, Perth.
Pawsey is a world-class high-performance computing facility accelerating scientific discoveries for Australia’s researchers. It is an unincorporated joint venture of CSIRO, Curtin University, Edith Cowan University, Murdoch University and the University of Western Australia, that provides services in the areas of supercomputing, data management and analysis, and visualisation.
From its earliest days, the SKA project has played a central role in Pawsey’s operations. Our relationship with the MRO and the SKA has grown closer through the years, and it is the perfect time to provide you with an update.
The Centre was awarded $70 million from the Australian Government in 2018 to upgrade Pawsey's supercomputing infrastructure. As a part of our capital refresh, we have continued working together with the astronomy community to unlock the secrets of our Universe.
Recently, new ingest nodes were commissioned to support researchers using CSIRO’s ASKAP telescope. The nodes are responsible for receiving data in real-time from the correlators located at the MRO and writing the data to disk for processing on Pawsey’s Galaxy supercomputer.
The ASKAP ingest nodes have increased the ability to transfer data from the MRO into Pawsey’s storage systems and will help to unlock the value of the astronomical data generated by the telescope.
Investment in both systems reflects the growing data processing needs of the MWA and ASKAP scientific instruments. Pawsey processes MWA data on the recently commissioned Garrawarla system. Both projects store data at the Centre and Pawsey’s infrastructure and expertise have been critical for the success of these SKA precursors.
We have our own special connection with the country on which the MRO operates, as two of our current systems, Galaxy, our real time radio-astronomy supercomputer and Magnus, our petaflop system, include artwork from Wajarri artists, sourced from the wonderful Yamaji Gallery in Geraldton. It is a connection I respectfully acknowledge whenever we have a visitor to Pawsey, also acknowledging that Pawsey operates on Whadjuk country in Perth.
A collage of ‘Rainbow Serpent and the Moon’ and ‘The Sun‘, original pieces from Jesse Pickett, are displayed on Galaxy; and Margaret Whitehurst’s ‘SKA Satellites on the Murchison’ is presented on our main supercomputer Magnus.
Pawsey is about to upgrade its systems with a next-generation supercomputer which we have named ‘Setonix’ after the scientific name for Western Australia’s iconic quokka. Setonix marks a step-change in Australia’s supercomputing firepower and will be 30 times more powerful than our current systems.
Setonix will be delivered in two stages: Phase 1, which is about to arrive, will provide a 45 percent increase in compute power in one-fifth of the size compared with Magnus and Galaxy, and enable researchers to migrate away from the existing systems to new system architecture. Phase 2 will become available next year and provide up to 50 petaFLOPS of raw compute power and be one of the fastest research supercomputers in the world.
A couple of months ago, the Prime Minister and the Hon Christian Porter MP, Minister for Industry, Science and Technology, visited Pawsey to announce a $387 million 10-year commitment to the SKA to secure its future in Australia. It was my honour to provide an overview of Pawsey, the SKA, ASKAP and MWA projects. As part of the announcement the PM committed $64 million to establish a centre that will process and analyse SKA data, the Australian SKA Regional Centre.
Pawsey is also part of Australia’s commitment to the SKAO to host a future Science Data Processor for the fully operational SKA telescope and we are also a partner in the SKA Regional Centre announced by the Prime Minister.
Our relationship with the MRO continues to grow and in addition to our direct link streaming data at 100 Gbps, and the compute and data systems we support, we’re looking forward to sharing the images of our Phase 1 system and its artwork next month, adding another chapter to our story and respectfully acknowledging our connections to the MRO, WA’s Mid-West and the SKA story.
To stay in touch, register as a Pawsey Friend.
Mark Stickells, Pawsey Supercomputing Centre.
Image: Prime Minister visited the Pawsey Centre in April. Pic: Pawsey Centre.
At the end of 2020, ASKAP published the results of its first all-sky survey. This large-scale project is known as the Rapid ASKAP Continuum Survey or RACS.
This is a huge achievement for the entire team and offers the first glimpse of ASKAP’s full capabilities. Previous large-scale surveys have taken many years to observe and process. With ASKAP’s wide-angle view, we were able to observe more than 80% of the entire sky (not just the Southern hemisphere) in around two weeks. Data processing took significantly longer, and we were able to release public images covering this area about 18 months after the observations. This includes the time taken to turn raw telescope data into images using the Pawsey Centre, and then construct catalogues of all the radio sources found in the images.
RACS identified nearly three million galaxies – about one million of which we have never seen before. Read more about RACS here.
Astronomers now have access to a greatly improved atlas of the sky, which will become the foundation for new research. The first RACS data release covers all the sky we can see from the MRO, but only in one frequency band. We will be conducting two more RACS surveys with the telescope tuned to different frequencies. One of these has already been observed and is now being processed at Pawsey.
Meanwhile, ASKAP’s international survey science teams continue their preparations for ASKAP’s main mission – a five-year survey program that will look much further out into the Universe than RACS. We are now beginning Phase II of pilot surveys for these projects, after having made many adjustments and improvements based on feedback from Phase I.
Research results from Phase I and previous early science observations continue to make headlines, including the recent publication of observations through the plane of our own Galaxy, the Milky Way, in the direction of a well-known Southern constellation, Scorpius.
Aidan Hotan, CSIRO
Image: The giant Centaurus A galaxy was one elliptical galaxy captured in the RACS survey. Image: A Hotan.
With the winter solstice now past, the days get will start to get longer and the nights shorter. The equinox, where day and night are equal in length is on 23 September.
Some of the best views over the coming three months will be in the western evening skies.
On 12 July Mars and Venus will be close together, just above a thin crescent Moon with the bright star Regulus higher up.
In the early evening on 18 August three planets will be visible just above the western horizon: Mercury low down, the reddish Mars just above it, and bright Venus higher above these two.
On 10 September Venus will sit just next to the crescent Moon with the star Spica below it and Mercury even lower in the west. The star Arcturus will be low down in the north-west.
This time of year is perfect for viewing our galaxy, the Milky Way, as the plane of the galaxy is high overhead in the evening sky. Scorpius is easy to distinguish with Sagittarius adjacent. Saturn and Jupiter will be visible in the eastern sky with Saturn the higher of the two.
If you want to explore the night sky I’d recommend Stellarium, which you can install for free on your PC or Mac. An app version for Android or iOS is also available at low cost.
Rob Hollow, CSIRO
Image: The three planets and Spica at 18:45 on 18 August as seen from Geraldton. Generated using Stellarium.
Image: A double rainbow appears at AKSAP. Pic: C. Brayton.
Image: Dawn over ASKAP. Pic: C. Brayton.
Image: Rebecca introducing the AAVS Antennas (SKA prototype) to the MWDC Board. Pic: C. Brayton.
Image: MWDC Board Members with Rebecca and Brett Hiscock. Pic: C. Brayton.