W.M. Keck Observatory and Parkes radio telescope

The twin Keck telescopes in Hawaii. Photo by Karl Glazebrook.

Swinburne has a remote operations facility in Melbourne that allows astronomers to remotely control the Keck telescopes in Hawaii, 9000 kilometres away. This is the farthest distance from which a telescope of this class has been remotely controlled in real time and is the only such Keck facility outside the United States.

Swinburne is one of few Australian universities with guaranteed access to the world's largest and most productive optical/infra-red telescopes – the twin Keck telescopes in Hawaii – plus access to the CSIRO's giant radio telescope in Parkes, New South Wales. 

Swinburne has an agreement with California University of Technology giving Swinburne's astronomers unprecedented access to the twin 10-metre Keck telescopes. Located 4200 metres above sea level at the top of the dormant volcano Mauna Kea, the Keck telescopes have provided some of the most spectacular views of the universe ever obtained. 

Each telescope mirror is made from 36 hexagonal segments 1.8 metres in diameter. The enormous mirror structure weighs in at over 14,000 kg. But it is extremely well balanced and can be pointed towards objects in the night sky with amazing precision.

The diamond planet…a giant diamond in space…was a really exciting discovery made possible with the supercomputer and the fibre link to the Parkes radio telescope.

Professor Matthew Bailes

Acting Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research and Development)

Both Keck I and II offer a wide range of instruments:

The Swinburne Time Assignment Committee for Keck (STACK) grants access to the Keck telescopes. Following a call for proposals, Swinburne astronomers apply to use the telescopes in order to complete their specific astronomy research program. The STACK reviews the applications and grants access to successful applicants. 

Most Keck observing runs involve PhD students and some of the data collected forms part of their PhD thesis. Swinburne was the first university in Australia to have access to the Keck telescopes. Our PhD students have been using the facility since 2009 for research and training.  

Swinburne researchers also have access to the 64-metre CSIRO radio telescope in Parkes, New South Wales. Researchers have physical access to the telescope and real-time access to its data through a dedicated optical fiber. The connection links the telescope with Swinburne's newest supercomputer, Green II at the Hawthorn campus. The unique optical fibre link made possible the exciting discovery of the 'diamond planet'. 

At present, an international team of scientists using the Parkes radio telescope, including astronomers from Swinburne, is investigating a unique new phenomenon called Fast Radio Bursts. The team has uncovered a population of millisecond long radio bursts from a distant universe. The bursts have encoded within them a record of their path through intergalactic space that allows astronomers to probe the universe in a new way and may lead to new insights into its mass and evolution.