New WM Keck Observatory Remote Viewing Facility opens at Swinburne

Thursday 12 April 2018

Keck telescopes in the evening

Located 4200 metres above sea level at the top of the dormant volcano Mauna Kea, the Keck telescopes have provided some spectacular views of the Universe. Ethan Tweedie Photography/WM Keck Observatory

In summary

  • World-class facility enables researchers to remotely control the twin Keck Observatory telescopes in Hawaii from Hawthorn
  • Swinburne researchers have access to the observatory for up to 10 nights a year
  • the facility is partially funded through a donation from the Eric Ormond Baker Charitable fund

Pioneering astrophysics research in Australia has received a boost with the launch of the WM Keck Observatory Remote Viewing Facility at Swinburne University of Technology’s Luton Lane offices in Hawthorn.

This world-class facility enables researchers and astronomy students to remotely control the twin Keck Observatory telescopes - the world’s most scientifically productive optical and infrared telescopes – based in Hawaii.

More than 9000 kilometres from the observatory, Swinburne astronomers have been able to control the Keck telescopes with a direct video link to the telescopes since 2009 from a small on-campus control room.

Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research and Development), Professor Aleksandar Subic, says the Caltech partnership and access to Keck remote viewing and observation has allowed Swinburne researchers to conduct world leading research that is leading to new discoveries and transforming knowledge.

A strategic research agreement with the California Institute for Technology (Caltech) for a further five years gives Swinburne access to the W M Keck Observatory for up to 10 nights a year until 2023.

“The potential discoveries have the ability to answer some of life’s biggest questions and lead to breakthrough technologies that could benefit many fields and industries. We are already seeing a huge impact that the recent discovery of gravitational waves is having,” Professor Subic says.

Three researchers observing data from the W M Keck Observatory

 

The new facility can accommodate larger research teams and provides a new base for the Deeper, Wider Faster astrophysics program that has been searching for Fast Radio Bursts, the fastest explosions in the Universe.

“The ability to remotely operate the Keck telescopes from Melbourne has placed the Swinburne campus in the frontline of international astrophysics,” says Director of Swinburne’s Centre for Astrophysics and Supercomputing, Professor Karl Glazebrook.

“It is really exciting to be in the remote observing room and see, in real time, the newest and faintest signals from the most distant objects coming in live. It allows Swinburne astronomers to make decisions on the spot that lead to major discoveries about the Universe and facilitates wide engagement of our staff and students in these moments.”

Using the W M Keck Observatory’s cutting-edge instrumentation, Swinburne astronomers have produced landmark discoveries about the Universe such as:

Astronomers from other research centres will also have access to the new facility.

Researchers will also be able to remotely control the Anglo-Australian Telescope in New South Wales.

The new facility was unveiled at a special event held for Swinburne alumni and donors. It has been partially funded through a generous donation from the Eric Ormond Baker Charitable fund, represented by trustee and Swinburne Online staff member Graeme Baker, and managed by Equity Trustees.