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Astronomers converge at Keck workshop

Date posted: Monday 26 Mar 2012

Astronomers converge at Keck workshop

Swinburne University of Technology is hosting the first-ever workshop to be held outside the US for users of the world's largest ground-based optical telescopes, located at the Keck Observatory in Hawaii.

The Keck Science Workshop draws together eminent international and Australian researchers including 2011 Nobel Laureate in Physics, Professor Brian Schmidt, to highlight the latest science from the twin telescopes.

Swinburne Vice-Chancellor Professor Linda Kristjanson was joined by Victoria's Chief Scientist Professor Emeritus Frank Larkins to formally open the workshop at Swinburne's Hawthorn campus today.

"Swinburne's Centre for Astrophysics and Supercomputing is the largest astronomical research group in Victoria and has been privileged to have access to the telescopes - owned by the California Association for Research in Astronomy - for up to 20 nights a year since 2008," Professor Kristjanson said. "No other astronomy group outside the US has similar access to this facility.

"We are honoured to bring the ‘Keck family' to Swinburne to share the latest research achievements from the observatory."

Workshop presentations will be given by eminent astronomers including Professor Taft Armandroff, Director of the Keck Observatory and Professor Shri Kulkarni Director of the Caltech Observatories. Professor Andrea Ghez from UCLA will present a public lecture about the nature of a supermassive black hole at the centre of our galaxy and how it might have formed.

The Keck Observatory atop Mauna Kea in Hawaii, has two telescopes that are each ten metres in diameter. These telescopes are at the forefront of astronomical discovery. Through their unrivalled observations of stars, planets and galaxies seen billions of years back in time, they have provided some of the most spectacular views of the Universe ever obtained.

More than 9000 kilometres from the observatory, Swinburne's Hawthorn campus houses a control room that allows Swinburne astronomers to control the Keck telescopes over the internet. This is the furthest distance a telescope of this class has been remotely controlled in real time. It saves travel time, reduces greenhouse gas emissions and allows staff and students to work closely while on opposite sides of the world.

Access to the Keck facility has enabled landmark discoveries by Swinburne astronomers including:

  • Observations that helped characterise the diamond planet, discovered by an international research team led by Professor Matthew Bailes;
  • the discovery by Dr George Hau and Professor Duncan Forbes of a 'galactic freak', an extremely rare ultra-compact dwarf galaxy that could furnish the missing link in understanding how galaxies and their clusters evolve; and
  • Professor Duncan Forbes' discovery that giant galaxies that contain billions of stars are born in much the same way as delicate snowflakes.

It has also enabled the verification of other recent discoveries such as the distant galaxy cluster and the emerald-cut galaxy.

Event: Keck Science Workshop

When: 26-28 March 2012

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