Bangalore: In search of a view of the birth of the first stars and galaxies almost 13 billion years ago, the `cosmic dawn`, the city-based Raman Research Institute (RRI) with partners in Australia, the US and New Zealand has achieved a milestone building the Murchison Widefield Array (MWA), a radio telescope in Australia.
The RRI, in partnership with US Universities, Harvard and MIT, and the Universities of Australia and New Zealand successfully built and commissioned the MWA, a radio telescope that is a precursor to the international Square Kilometre Array (SKA), a next generation new-technology radio telescope being built across Australia and South Africa.
The digital receivers of the MWA were built at RRI, whose engineers and scientists worked along with international partners in the remote Australian outback installing and commissioning the telescope.
Professor Ravi Subrahmanyan, Director of the RRI, said the creation of the MWA is a technological marvel that would help humanity take the first exploratory steps into times in our cosmic history that have remained inaccessible to date.
"It will enable astronomers to glean insights into our own Milky Way and galaxies beyond, pulsing and exploding stellar objects, and the influence of the Sun on inter-planetary space weather close to the Earth, he said at an event organised at RRI today to celebrate the milestone.
Nobel laureate Prof Brian Schmidt and Australian High Commissioner to India Patrick Suckling were among those present.
"The MWA is a fantastic example of how Australia and India are working together at the cutting edge of science," said Suckling.
Prof Schmidt was recognised at the celebrations for his role as a Board member of the MWA international partnership since its inception.
RRI officials said the completion of the MWA is a momentous step to the setting up of the international SKA, a massive global project to build the world’s largest radio telescope across Australia and South Africa.
This next-generation new-technology radio telescope promises to herald path-breaking advances in the deployment of distributed and massively parallel antenna technology, integrated receivers, energy systems, communications and computing, they said.
The just-completed telescope -- the primary goal of which is to view the birth of the first stars and galaxies, is now entering the operational phase.
The MWA is a joint Australia, India, New Zealand and US initiative.
The MWA is situated over 200 km inland from the Western Australian coast, in the Murchison district. The area is sparsely populated and has very little radio frequency interference, which is absolutely essential for exploring deep into our cosmic history.
The SKA, a low-frequency telescope, would be constructed nearby, and the MWA is a step to its realisation.
The MWA will perform several surveys of the southern sky and make sensitive images of the targeted regions.
The data will provide astronomers insights into the dramatic evolution experienced by the primordial cosmic gas as the first stars and galaxies formed in the early universe.
The MWA will image the intergalactic hydrogen gas surrounding early galaxies during the cosmological epoch of re-ionisation.
It will also provide insights into structure of the gas in our Milky Way galaxy and its magnetic field, cosmic radio sources that are transient and periodic, and the science of space weather that connects Sun to the environment near Earth.
The MWA successfully completed its commissioning phase and has just transitioned to scientific operations. The Australian Minister for Innovation, Senator Kim Carr, launched the MWA operational phase from Melbourne on July 9.
The first observing cycle is now underway and all indications are that the telescope and data are meeting the high expectations set during commissioning, RRI officials said.
The telescope has begun gathering the weak radio signals from deep space that will be analysed over the coming years by scientists at RRI and in the US and Australia using massively parallel computing systems.
"These analyses are expected to reveal a first glimpse at how the early universe transformed dramatically as the `First Light` from the first stars and galaxies that formed in the primordial universe lit up the `Dark Ages` and our universe emerged into the `Cosmic Dawn`", the officials said.