Australian radio telescope with UWM connections upgraded

The Murchison Widefield Array recently announced the completion of its phase two expansion. The expansion quadruples the radio observatory’s size, giving it a 10-fold increase in observing power.

That’ll please a lot of folks at UWM, particularly associate professor of physics David Kaplan, project scientist for the Murchison project. Kaplan’s primary research interests are transient cosmic events, such as supernovae and “fast radio bursts,” and the upgrades are welcome.

Students kneel in front of some metal equipment.
UWM students spent five days last year helping build the antennas for the Murchison Widefield Array. (Contributed photo)

“I’ve been working on the Murchison Wide Array and it’s been producing a lot of science,” Kaplan said. “Having the increased capacity of 128 new antennas is critical to building on our research.

“This will keep MWA at the scientific forefront for the next five years.”

Phase two began in mid-2016 with the deployment of 72 tiles, arranged in a regular hexagonal configuration that became operational in October. Kaplan sent four physics undergraduate researchers to the Australian outback to help with the upgrade last year.

“They really enjoyed participating and learning about the technology involved in the project,” Kaplan said. “And of course, they saw a unique part of the world.”

For Will Fiore, a senior physics major from Madison, the project meant his first trip overseas. He enjoyed the “interesting and strange” locale in the Australian Outback, but also found the work particularly engaging.

“It made it easier to connect the data I was analyzing with the way it was being collected,” Fiore said. “Radio interferometry is very abstract and something abstract is easier to understand if you’re able to connect it to something you’ve seen.”

The Murchison array is one of four precursor telescopes for the much larger billion-dollar Square Kilometer Array and the only one that is fully operational. Kaplan is a member of several science working groups for that project.

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