IRASR has an active research and development program.
Our research activities
We conduct research in radio astronomy, space science and SKA related projects. We were the first research institution in New Zealand with this research profile and were largely responsible for initiating interest in New Zealand joining the multi-billion dollar SKA project. We participate in a number of research projects and collaborate with NZ, Australian and international research institutes and leading space agencies.
Our radio telescope facilities
We operate AUT's Warkworth Radio Astronomical Observatory (WRAO) with two major radio telescopes – the first research capable radio telescopes in New Zealand:
- a 12-m fast slewing shaped Cassegrain antenna
- a 30-m Cassegrain antenna (upgraded Telecom New Zealand telecommunication antenna, operational in 2012)
We operate the Hydrogen Maser Clock, the frequency and time standard capable of keeping time with relative accuracy of 10-15 (equivalent of 1 second in 30 million years).
We closely collaborate with CASS (CSIRO Astronomy and Space Science, Australia). Our radio telescopes are officially part of the Australian Long Baseline Array (LBA).
WRAO is an official network station of the International VLBI Service (IVS) for Geodesy and Astrometry. In conjunction with the IVS global network of radio telescopes, our 12-m antenna is used for regular monitoring of:
- tectonic plate motion, Earth orientation parameter, Earth rotation (as the basis for the Universal Time system)
- the International Terrestrial Reference Frame (as the basis for the World Geodetic System)
- the International Celestial Reference Frame (as the basis for spacecraft navigation)
Our key projects
SKA: As a part of the New Zealand SKA Open Consortium, we investigate HPC technology options for the proposed Square Kilometre Array. We participate in international SKA consortia for development of the SKA: Central Signal Processor (led by Canada) and SKA Science Data Processor (led by the University of Cambridge). We develop observational and computational methods for the eVLBI technique as a proved SKA prototype. This work is conducted in close collaboration with international universities and organizations involved in SKA, as well as in collaboration with NZ universities (Auckland, Massey and Otago) and NZ industries (Compucon, GreenButton, OpenParallel, IRL and others).
Dynamic Earth: Study of plate tectonic motion, dynamics of the Australian tectonic plate and irregularities in the Earth’s rotation. This work is conducted in close collaboration with Geoscience Australia, GNS Science and LINZ. In 2010 the basis for joint observations was created in the framework of the IVS and AuScope. There are and will be projects in collaboration with many research institutes around the world and across the Tasman.
Physics of the Interstellar Matter: Theoretical and observational study of highly-excited states of atoms (Rydberg atoms) and molecules (masers) in both ionised and molecular clouds in the Milky Way Galaxy and extragalactic radio sources. Part of this work is included in the GASKAP project of the Australian SKA Pathfinder and the long-baseline science of SKA.
Radio Astronomy and VLBI
Radio Astronomy, and particularly the technique of VLBI (Very Large Baseline Interferometry), has added a lot to the fundamental understanding of basic scientific questions. Much has been contributed to the knowledge of the structure, evolution and ultimate fate of the universe. The structure of our own galaxy can only be deduced from studies of radio waves that enable us to penetrate the thick layers of dust and gas that block our view in the optical and other portions of the electromagnetic spectrum. Fundamental theories of Physics can in many cases only be tested in the extremes (extreme physical regimes) that are impossible to achieve in the laboratory, but are common for Deep Space objects. The technique of VLBI is also essential in the development of geophysical models of Earth crustal movements and Earth rotational dynamics, providing a means of establishing the necessary fundamental frame of reference.
VLBI and its modern version, real-time e-VLBI , continues to provide engineering challenges, requiring very high speed data communications, high speed and massive data storage, advanced data processing methods, ultra precise timing systems and extremely sensitive receivers operating at radio frequencies. It provides an ideal vehicle for driving developments in the areas of high speed data communications, supercomputing and advanced microwave and RF design. To facilitate the development of these sciences and technologies in New Zealand, AUT has established an Institute for Radio Astronomy and Space Research (IRASR) and the Warkworth Radio Astronomical Observatory (WRAO).