Our astronomy research

CSIRO astronomers study cosmic objects, such as quasars, galaxies, gas clouds, pulsars and individual stars, using our own radio telescopes and other instruments.

Our team of astronomers are experts in observational radio astronomy and provide scientific support to other users of the Australia Telescope National Facility. Our world-class research spans four broad areas:

Particles emitting radio waves stream millions of light-years into space from the heart of the galaxy Centaurus A. Data for the image was gathered with CSIRO's Australia Telescope Compact Array and Parkes radio telescope: the frequency of the radio waves was 1.4 GHz. The smallest structure visible in the image is 680 parsecs (210 light-years) across: the scale bar represents 50,000 parsecs (about 163,000 light-years). The white dots are not stars but background radio sources, each a huge galaxy like Centaurus A in the distant Universe. Image: Ilana Feain, Tim Cornwell and Ron Ekers (CSIRO/ATNF). ATCA northern middle lobe pointing courtesy R. Morganti (ASTRON), Parkes data courtesy N. Junkes (MPIfR).

  1. Pulsars and transients: A pulsar is a small spinning neutron star that emits a beam of radio waves. As a pulsar spins its beam flashes repeatedly across Earth, and we detect regular pulses of radio waves. Our Parkes radio telescope has been used to discover half of the more than 2000 known pulsars and we have a very strong group investigating them. Their research includes using the Parkes telescope to explore how precise timing of the pulses from a number of pulsars could be used to detect gravitational waves predicted by Einstein’s theory of relativity. Other research is focused on transient phenomena, such as identifying the origin of mysterious ‘fast radio bursts’.
  2. Galactic astrophysics: Investigating our own Galaxy, including its neutral gas distribution and the process of star formation, is a further research focus. In recent years, teams led by, or involving, our own astronomers have revealed structural features of the Milky Way, such as a previously unknown ‘spiral arm’.
  3. Nearby Universe: A third area with strong research expertise is the study of the nearby Universe. Recent major projects in this area have been a survey to assess the number and sizes of nearby galaxies, and the creation of the most detailed image of the radio galaxy Centaurus A.
  4. Distant Universe: Studying objects in the distant Universe, and the process of galaxy evolution, is another area of research strength. Our team is investigating the evolving relationship between star-forming galaxies and compact regions at the centre of galaxies known as ‘active galactic nuclei’, and recently conducted a survey of the entire southern sky at 20 GHz.

ASKAP leading to the SKA

Our team of astronomers has been closely involved in the development of our newest radio telescope, the Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder, and are taking a leading role in several of the science teams chosen by an international panel to utilise the first five years of telescope operations. In addition, CSIRO astronomers are actively participating in the planning for science to be done with the Square Kilometre Array, a future instrument that will be the world’s largest observatory.

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