Murchison Widefield Array
Operational since mid-2013
The Murchison Widefield Array (MWA) is a low-frequency radio telescope, located at the Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory (MRO) in Western Australia where the future Square Kilometre Array (SKA) low-frequency array (SKA_LOW) will be built. MWA is designated as an official Precursor for the SKA, and is serving as a critical testbed for SKA_LOW technology. The MWA is a collaboration between 13+ research institutions in 6 countries (Australia, India, New Zealand, Canada, Japan and the United States) and is led by Curtin University.
The telescope collects radio waves with low frequencies between 80 and 300 MHz via 4,096 antennas, split up into 128 groups of 32 called ‘titles’ that are spread as far as 3 km apart. It is designed to have a wide field of view on the sky and to be highly versatile and adaptable through signal processing rather than through moving parts.
The MWA is performing large surveys of the entire Southern Hemisphere sky and acquiring deep observations on targeted regions. It enables astronomers to pursue four key science objectives. The primary endeavour is the hunt for intergalactic hydrogen gas that surrounded early galaxies during the cosmological epoch of reionization. The MWA will also provide new insights into our Milky Way galaxy and its magnetic field, pulsing and exploding stellar objects, and the science of space weather that connects our Sun to the environment here on Earth.
MWA completed the 128 tile array in late 2012 and commissioning was successfully completed in the first half of 2013. The operational phase of the MWA project was officially launched by Minister for Innovation Senator Kim Carr on 9th July 2013 at the Astronomical Society of Australia Annual Scientific Meeting. MWA has been operating smoothly since mid-2013 and by mid-2016, MWA had collected and stored more than 10 petabytes of science-rich data at the Pawsey Supercomputing Centre.
During 2016/17, MWA is undertaking a major "phase 2" upgrade, funded by an ARC LIEF grant and MWA partner contributions, which will double the number of tiles (to improve sensitivity) and double the length of the baseline (to improve resolution).
The majority of the Australian funding to construct MWA "phase 1" came from the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy NCRIS and EIF, administered by AAL. The Australian Government continues to supported early science operations of MWA through the NCRIS program.
Prof Randall Wayth, Director, MWA, Curtin University