Our Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory, known as 'the MRO', is one of the best locations in the world to operate telescopes that listen for radio signals from space.
The MRO is home to our Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder (ASKAP) radio telescope. ASKAP detects radio waves between 700 and 1800 MHz, which are similar frequencies to digital TV broadcasts and 4G mobile networks. This means that the telescope itself must be located a long way from human settlements, so that terrestrial signals don’t interfere with the weaker signals coming from natural sources in space.
We also host international radio astronomy projects at the MRO. We have the Arizona State University's Experiment to Detect the Global Epoch of Reionization Signature (EDGES) instrument, and the Curtin University-led Murchison Widefield Array (MWA). We're also preparing the MRO for the Square Kilometre Array (SKA). The SKA will be the largest and most sensitive radio telescope in the world and promises to answer some of the biggest questions about our Universe.
Indigenous Land Use Agreement
Many partners have come together to create an Indigenous Land Use Agreement (ILUA) for the MRO to operate, and to ensure educational, social and economic benefits flow to the traditional owners of the site, the Wajarri people. The ILUA includes a cadetship program that runs for the life of the telescopes and our staff visit the remote Pia Community School as part of a mentoring program. We’ve co-created resources on Wajarri culture and the MRO. A new ILUA for the future Square Kilometre Array telescope will expand on these benefits.
Radio quiet zone
The Australian and Western Australian Governments have established a ‘radio quiet’ zone to protect this unique radio astronomy site from noise created by modern life. The zone is an area 520km in diameter, centred on the MRO, in which licenced communications and electronic devices such as television transmitters, mobile telephones base stations and CB radios are controlled to limit electromagnetic interference to the radio telescopes on site.
Due to these radio quiet requirements, it’s not possible to visit the site in person but we’ve created the next best thing! Here's a virtual tour of the Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory which takes you to the telescopes (ASKAP, MWA and SKA prototype) and the Observatory infrastructure (control building and solar-hybrid power system). Thanks to our partners, the Australian SKA Office and ICRAR for working with us to create this great tool.
The remote location of the MRO ensures a radio quiet operating environment but makes access to basic infrastructure like roads and power a challenge. In partnership with Australian companies Horizon Power and Energy Made Clean, we’ve constructed a dedicated power station for the MRO. This consists of a solar array, a lithium-ion battery, and four diesel generators. It is the world’s first hybrid-renewable facility to power a major remote astronomical observatory.
The large amounts of data produced by the telescopes on site require significant customised computing power. Computers and other essential electronics are housed in a specially designed control building that prevents electromagnetic interference from escaping: it has two layers of solid metal shielding and airlock doors designed to meet exacting international radio emissions standards. The transport of signals from the telescopes to the control building is via optical fibres.
There are currently three telescopes operating at the MRO, and we’re working with our partners to prepare to host the low frequency antennas for the international Square Kilometre Array project.
Our own Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder (ASKAP) has 36 dish antennas, each 12m in diameter. Each antenna is fitted with a unique CSIRO-designed phased array feed receiver (or radio ‘camera’), giving it an extremely rapid survey capability. ASKAP can capture high-quality images and scan the whole sky, a bit like a wide-angle lens allowing you to see more through a single viewpoint. It has already found a niche as a finder and localiser of fast radio bursts. These are flashes of radio waves in the distant Universe that last just milliseconds. ASKAP is an official precursor to the SKA.
The Murchison Widefield Array or MWA is a low frequency array designed to perform large surveys of the southern hemisphere sky and deep observations on targeted regions. It consists of 256 tiles, each with 16 dipole antennas, and operates between 80 and 300 MHz. The telescope is an international project led and operated by Curtin University with collaboration from several international and Australian universities and research institutions. Like ASKAP, the MWA is an official precursor instrument to the SKA.
The Experiment to Detect the Global Epoch of Reionization Signature (EDGES) run by Arizona State University aims to detect the atomic hydrogen signal that comes from the first stars through observations with individual dipole antennas. It consists of two instruments; a high-band instrument (sensitive to 100-200 MHz) and a low-band instrument (sensitive to 50-100 MHz).
The Square Kilometre Array (SKA) is an international project to build the world's most powerful radio telescope. The SKA will be tens of times more sensitive and hundreds of times faster at mapping the sky than today’s best radio telescopes. It will be built in two countries: Australia and South Africa. We will host the low-frequency 'SKA-Low' telescope, an array of 131,072 small antennas across a distance of up to 65km. The SKA will be the world’s largest public science data project. Construction is due to commence in early 2022 and take about seven years to complete.
We acknowledge the Wajarri people as the traditional owners of the MRO site.