The Discipline of Mathematics and Physics operates two radio astronomy observatories. One at Mt Pleasant approximately 20km from Hobart and the other near Ceduna in South Australia. There are two telescopes at the Mt Pleasant Observatory, a 26m general purpose telescope which was donated to the University by NASA in 1985 and a home-built 14m telescope which is dedicated to observations of the Vela pulsar. The Ceduna Observatory has a single 30m antenna which was donated to the University in 1995 by Telstra.
The primary research interests of the radio astronomers are in the following areas :
The University of Tasmania telescopes play a vital role in a number of Australian and international very long baseline interferometry (VLBI) arrays.
In conjunction with telescopes at Parkes, Coonabarabran and Narrabri in NSW operated by the CSIRO, the Mt Pleasant 26m and Ceduna 30m telescopes form the Australian VLBI network, which is operated as a national facility by the CSIRO, the University of Tasmania and Curtin University of Technology. The University of Tasmania antennas provide all the long baselines in this array and enable it to produce images with a resolution of less than 1 thousandth of an arcsecond (one hundred times smaller than the Hubble space telescope).
The telescopes also participate in world-wide VLBI arrays, collaborating with telescopes in South America, Africa and Antarctica. Data collected with the Mt Pleasant antenna has been used to measure the tectonic plate motion of continental plate which Tasmania sits on.
The Mt Pleasant and Ceduna telescopes have regularly participated in space science missions, including the VSOP (VLBI Space Observatory Platform) and SELENE missions operated by the Japanese space agency JAXA. The Huygens mission operated by the European space agency and the Russian Radio Astron mission.
The Mt Pleasant and Ceduna telescopes are also regularly used to make observations of interstellar masers. A maser (microwave amplification by stimulated emission of radiation) is the radio frequency equivalent of a laser. These arise naturally in space in a variety of locations, including in the gas around newly formed large stars, in the envelopes of old stars, at the edges of supernova remnants and in circumnuclear discs in active galaxies. The Mt Pleasant telescope has been used extensively to search for new masers and is responsible for discovering approximately one quarter of all methanol masers.
Pulsars form when a star five (5) or so times larger than the Sun runs out of fuel. The star implodes leaving a rapidly spinning neutron star (the densest material in the Universe) as the core. The time at which pulses of light from the spinning neutron star arrive at the Earth can be measured very accurately, but occasionally young pulsars such as the Vela pulsar "glitch".
Authorised by the Head of School, Physical Sciences
14 January, 2015