University of Sydney celebrates 50 years of Molonglo

7 December 2015

On its 50th anniversary, the Molonglo Observatory Synthesis Telescope will undergo major upgrades to deliver new capabilities for astronomers

Molonglo turns 50

Professor Anne Green from the School of Physics spoke to the ABC about Molonglo's relaunch

Since its inception in 1965, the Molonglo Observatory Synthesis Telescope has been owned and operated by the University of Sydney. Originally built as the Molonglo Cross, the telescope has two huge cylindrical arms that stretch across the Molonglo valley, east of Canberra. 

The University of Sydney is now ushering in a new era for the Molonglo Observatory Synthesis Telescope (MOST), announcing major upgrades to the instrument. From 2015, 50 years since the telescope started work, it will commence regular science observations as part of the UTMOST project in collaboration with Swinburne University, funded primarily by the Australian Government. 

Facilitated by the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for All-Sky Astrophysics (CAASTRO), the University of Sydney, Swinburne Universityand CSIRO have formed an historic partnership to carry out the million dollar update of MOST.

While the structure of the telescope will be unchanged, a new supercomputer backend will allow astronomers to handle up to 22 gigabytes of data per second. This is entering the domain of  big data, with smart electronics and clever software programs to process data in real time. Having directed the Molonglo telescope for more than a decade, Professor Anne Green from the School of Physics said the upgrade would be game-changing.

“The major redevelopments to the Molonglo Telescope will deliver new and exciting capabilities,” Professor Green said.

"For almost a decade, fast radio bursts (cosmic radio signals that last just a few milliseconds) have mystified astronomers. With the upgrade to Molonglo, we will have the opportunity to hunt for the mysterious bursts. We don’t know where they are or what they are, but with this new capability we have an excellent opportunity to answer these questions.”

A group from the University of Sydney's Talented Students Program visiting the telescope

Over its lifetime, the telescope has been funded mainly by the Australian Research Council and the University of Sydney. In recent years the NSW State Government has also provided funding, through its Science Leveraging Fund.

The University’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) Professor Duncan Ivison, the Head of the School of Physics Professor Tim Bedding and Professor Anne Green were among the guests who attended the 50th anniversary celebrations and launch of upgrades at the Molonglo Observatory. 

Top 3 research highlights

Supernova 1987A was the brightest supernova remnant seen since the invention of telescopes. The MOST detected the 'prompt' radio emission at the time of the explosion - the first time this had been done - and in 1990 made the first detection of a radio source emerging from the site of the supernova.

An 843 MHz survey of the southern sky from the South Celestial Pole to declination -30 degrees, with similar sensitivity and resolution to the NVSS survey carried out for the Northern sky.

Covering the southern sky from the South Celestial Pole to declination +18 degrees, this survey provided a catalogue of 12 141 radio sources.