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By Richard Monk 23 May 2021 2 min read

Dr Vanessa Moss is a senior experimental scientist who lives in Sydney. But because of her work in Western Australia and with The Netherlands, she prefers to live on Perth time.

Vanessa has a number of roles that involve astronomy. She is the head of our ASKAP radio telescope science operations, and coordinates the team of astronomers who provide ‘on call’ support to users of our Australia Telescope Compact Array. But her main role is making sure the telescopes that make up our Australian National Telescope Facility operate at their best. This helps us to deliver the best science and better explore and understand our Universe.

We meet Vanessa and go through some ways she makes it easier to uncover the hidden secrets of our Universe.

Using SEAFOG to peer into supermassive black holes

A passion for finding answers led Vanessa to become a core member of one of the pilot teams using our new ASKAP radio telescope. In this science survey, the FLASH team are using ASKAP to detect and understand neutral atomic hydrogen, the fuel that forms stars in galaxies.

Vanessa also leads a project called SEAFOG that connects our radio astronomy data with X-ray satellite data, helping us understand the dense gas near the edges of supermassive black holes. This project requires researchers from around the world to work together and builds an even better understanding of our Universe.

For the love of automation

Working with telescopes to get data like this takes a lot of planning, technology and, most importantly, working with people.

Vanessa is also looking at how we can improve the way we work by using automation to replace the repetitive tasks that can lead to making mistakes. With telescopes, automation is valuable in the event of changing conditions, that affect how telescopes operate. Automation adjusts the telescope more quickly and more accurately than people can. As a result, it leaves scientists to observe the Universe with almost no interruption.

The proof is in the pudding

The proof that automation works is in SAURON, a scheduler Vanessa developed last year. It controlled our ASKAP telescope over the Christmas period in 2020. By taking over human-led jobs, SAURON improved ASKAP’s efficiency to over 80 per cent!

The future

Vanessa’s work is closely connected to technology. But she knows this work is still about people and how we work, and work together.

Recently she led the ‘Future of Meetings’ team to see if there are better ways to work together now and in the future. It aims to produce better and more inclusive science. This is ongoing work to improve meetings, conferences and interactions into the future.

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