Hybrid tracking of Near-Earth Asteroids

Using the optical and radar infrastructure of the University of Tasmania to track near-Earth asteroids

Degree type

PhD

Closing date

6 March 2023

Campus

Hobart

Citizenship requirement

Domestic/International

About the research project

Astronomical radar observations have been used to study surfaces of all the solid planets and many smaller bodies in the solar system. Radar observations of asteroids provide key data for solar system science and planetary defence. NASA and JPL have led the tracking and cataloguing of asteroids since the 60's. This capability is much less developed in the Southern Hemisphere. The first detection of an asteroid using a radar technique in the Southern Hemisphere was conducted in 2015 between Tidbinbilla and the Australia Telescope Compact Array. Recently, the University of Tasmania achieved a detection of the echo bounced off the asteroid 1994 PC1 on 22 January 2022 using two of our 12-metre radio telescopes in Hobart and Katherine.

Since 2021 we have made 15 radar observations of asteroids. 7 more observations are planned together with NASA and JPL for 2022. Some of these asteroids are considered Potentially Hazardous Asteroids (PHA) due to proximity to Earth. The data processing is complex due to the weak signal received, requirement of large computational facilities and the software development.

The University of Tasmania is completing the upgrade of its 50 cm optical radio telescope up at Bisdee Tier. The upgrade has included a new mount for precise tracking of near-earth objects and a future fast -readout camera planned for 2023. Hybrid observations (radar + optical) of asteroids can improve the understanding the composition, dimensions, and orbital ephemerides of asteroids. Hybrid observations are rare since few other Southern Hemisphere observatories have this capability.

The future student will undertake data collection using the radio telescopes and conduct the data analysis and reduction. The student will be responsible to combine data from radio and optical domain. The student will further develop the space capabilities of the UTAS network of sensors for space situational awareness and planetary science.

Primary Supervisor

Meet Dr Guifre Molera Calves

Funding

Applicants will be considered for a Research Training Program (RTP) scholarship or Tasmania Graduate Research Scholarship (TGRS) which, if successful, provides:

  • a living allowance stipend of $28,854 per annum (2022 rate, indexed annually) for 3.5 years
  • a relocation allowance of up to $2,000
  • a tuition fees offset covering the cost of tuition fees for up to four years (domestic applicants only)

If successful, international applicants will receive a University of Tasmania Fees Offset for up to four years.

As part of the application process you may indicate if you do not wish to be considered for scholarship funding.

Eligibility

Applicants should review the Higher Degree by Research minimum entry requirements.

Additional eligibility criteria specific to this project/scholarship:

  • Applicants must be able to undertake the project on-campus

Selection Criteria

The project is competitively assessed and awarded.  Selection is based on academic merit and suitability to the project as determined by the College.

Additional essential selection criteria specific to this project:

  • Bachelor Hons in Physics, Astronomy, Mathematics, Engineering or a closely related discipline
  • Good communication skills
  • Proficient computer skills

Additional desirable selection criteria specific to this project:

  • Python, Matlab, C++ is advantage
  • Interest in planetary science, spacecraft, optical sensors, radio telescopes

Application process

There is a three-step application process:

  1. Select your project, and check you meet the eligibility and selection criteria;
  2. Contact the Primary Supervisor, Dr Guifre Molera Calves to discuss your suitability and the project's requirements; and
  3. Submit an application by the closing date listed above.
    • Copy and paste the title of the project from this advertisement into your application. If you don’t correctly do this your application may be rejected.
    • As part of your application, you will be required to submit a covering letter, a CV including 2 x referees and your project research proposal.

Following the application closing date applications will be assessed within the College. Applicants should expect to receive notification of the outcome by email by the advertised outcome date.

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