The most detailed and most rapid survey of the southern sky has helped map about a million previously undiscovered galaxies. Using the Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder radio telescope, scientists from the CSIRO, Australia's national science agency, have cut the time to complete such an intense survey of space from years to less than two weeks.
In a study, published in the journal Publications of the Astronomical Society of Australia on Monday, the first results from the CSIRO's Rapid ASKAP Continuum Survey are reported. The agency describes the survey as like a "Google Map" of the universe, providing the most detailed atlas of the southern sky yet.
The key to the new atlas is ASKAP, which isn't a single telescope but an array of 36 dish-shaped antennas stationed in the West Australian desert. The array listens for radio waves from deep space and can see a region of the sky about 30 times larger than other, contemporary radio arrays.
Taking over 900 images across about 300 hours, the team was able to stitch together a comprehensive map of the southern sky with a higher resolution than previous surveys. The images contain a total of 70 billion pixels and lurking in the data are 3 million galaxies -- a third of which are new to science.
The map will allow astronomers to study cosmic objects such as supernovas, pulsars and the jets around supermassive black holes in distant galaxies.
"ASKAP is applying the very latest in science and technology to age-old questions about the mysteries of the Universe and equipping astronomers around the world with new breakthroughs to solve their challenges," Larry Marshall, CSIRO chief executive, said in a news release.
It's just the beginning of the journey for ASKAP. RACS was conceived almost as a test bed for what ASKAP will try to achieve. Over the next five years, the radio array will begin to conduct ten major surveys of the sky, which will take about 1,500 hours to complete per project. Some of these projects will probe the most mysterious phenomena at the very edge of the universe.
"We expect to find tens of millions of new galaxies in future surveys," said David McConnell, astronomer at the CSIRO and lead author on the new study.
You can take a virtual tour of the impressive map at CSIRO's website.