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«NATIONAL COMMITTEE AUSTRALIAN FOR ASTRONOMY ACADEMY OF SCIENCE JULY 2015 Australia in the era of global astronomy The decadal plan for Australian ...»

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Australia in the era

of global astronomy

The decadal plan for

Australian astronomy


Antennas of CSIRO’s ASKAP radio telescope

at the Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory


Australia in the era of global astronomy

Australia in the era

of global astronomy

The decadal plan for Australian astronomy 2016–2025



Outflows of particles (pale blue) from the Galactic Centre. The background image is the whole Milky Way at the same scale.




Front cover image: Seeing Stars Art Prize was a celebration of art and astronomy inspired by the world’s largest telescope—the Square Kilometre Array (SKA), which will be co-hosted here in Australia. Using the inspiration of the SKA, artists were invited to create original pieces of artwork expressing the excitement and mystery of the SKA and its potential for discovery. More than 2 300 entries were received.

Listening by Alice Pulvers, SKA Art Prize 2013, SKA Project Director’s Choice Award. ‘Do we live in a universe or is there a multiverse? We began with a bang 13.72 billion years ago and are surrounded by hundreds of billions of galaxies. Our knowledge of space–time has expanded greatly over the past century. Technology has allowed us to discover, explore and theorise about the mysteries of our universe at the very small and very large scale. Compounds, atoms and subatomic particles have been discovered. Do strings underlay all of our subatomic particles? The mystery of dark matter and dark energy are perplexing us today. Is this matter that we are detecting from another universe? This painting explores these ideas of space, time, multiverse, matter, strings and our planet.’ Back cover image: Guerrilla Astronomy at the South Perth Foreshore. CREDIT K. GOTTSCHALK Editorial note: This document is Volume I of the 2016–2025 Decadal Plan for Australian astronomy. It is the culmination of over one year’s effort by the Australian astronomical community. The plan is based on the reports of 11 working groups, comprising over 150 astronomers, engineers and educators from over 30 Australian institutions across all states and the ACT. The working group reports are published electronically as part of Volume II at the following address: www.science.org.au/astronomy-plan-2016-25. The Decadal Plan was edited for the National Committee for Astronomy by an editorial board that included Professor Stuart Wyithe (chair), Professor Martin Asplund FAA, Dr Douglas Bock, Professor Lisa Kewley FAA and Professor Lister Staveley-Smith.

© Australian Academy of Science 2015 ISBN 978 0 85847 424 6 This work is copyright. The Copyright Act 1968 permits fair dealing for the purposes of research, news reporting, criticism or review. Selected passages, tables or diagrams may be reproduced for such purposes, provided acknowledgement of the source is included. Major extracts may not be reproduced by any process without written permission of the publisher.


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From the birth of the first stars and galaxies to the origin of habitable planets, Australian astronomy will continue to make world-leading discoveries over the coming decade. These discoveries will be achieved through a strong platform of cutting-edge optical/infrared and radio telescopes, supported by theoretical and computational astrophysics. This Decadal Plan identifies five top-level science infrastructure priorities. These priorities are equally weighted as part

of an overall astronomy capability:

• Partnership equating to 30% of an 8-metre class optical/infrared telescope;

• Continued development and operations of Square Kilometre Array (SKA) precursors, the Australian SKA Pathfinder (ASKAP) and Murchison Widefield Array (MWA) at the Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory (MRO), and membership of the SKA telescope;

• Partnership equating to 10% of a 30-metre class optical/infrared extremely large telescope (ELT), such as the Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT);

• Capability within the national observatories (the Australian Astronomical Observatory, AAO; and Australia Telescope National Facility, ATNF) to maximise Australia’s engagement in global projects through instrumentation development for these and other facilities;

1 ExEcutivE summary

• World-class high performance computing (HPC) and software capability for large theoretical simulations, and resources to enable processing and delivery of large data sets from these facilities.

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OF AUSTRALIA” The past decade has seen a large rise in Australian scientific impact from international facilities. This move represents a watershed in Australian astronomical history and must be strategically managed to maintain Australia’s pre-eminent role as an astronomical nation. Today, domestic national facilities, including the Anglo-Australian Telescope (AAT), the Parkes Telescope and the Australia Telescope Compact Array (ATCA) provide critical capability for Australian astronomers. This capability must be maintained during the development of the next generation of telescopes. However, resources PhD student Lina Levin observing at the need to be increasingly redirected Keck Observatory. CREDIT: SWINBURNE UNIVERSITY to these next-generation facilities in order to answer the scientific questions posed by the Australian community.

This includes redirection of funding into instrumentation development. Thus, existing telescopes may no longer be operated as national facilities at the close of this Decadal Plan period. The current roles of the AAO and the ATNF will need to grow to include oversight of Australia’s partnership in international facilities coupled with instrumentation programs capable of shaping the 1 ExEcutivE summary

scientific agenda for the next generation of telescopes.

Securing long-term partnership at a level equivalent to 30% of an 8-metre class telescope is necessary to answer the most fundamental science questions, and is the most pressing unresolved issue for the Australian astronomical community. Early investment in the GMT has positioned Australia to take a THE DECADAL PLAN FOR AUSTRALIAN ASTRONOMY 2016–2025 The Swinburne GPU Supercomputer for Theoretical Astrophysics Research (gSTAR).


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breaking science as well as provide the essential research and technical expertise required for operating the SKA. The past decade has seen an increased prominence of data-intensive research across all areas of Australian astronomy. Over the next decade, astronomers will bring together data of different types and wavelengths by connecting independent data hubs. The cost of such data federation, including the HPC professionals to develop and maintain them, must be budgeted for when projects are being planned.

The engagement of industry will become increasingly important in the coming decade as the focus of the scientific community moves from local facilities, which have often been designed and built domestically, towards new mega-projects. This Decadal Plan recommends establishing a program for astronomy–industry development, to support and facilitate strategic academic–industry collaborations, and increasing mobility of personnel.

Astronomy is a successful vehicle for promoting engagement with, and attracting students into the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines. The community should continue to use astronomy to help improve the standard of science education in schools through teacher-training programs. Training aimed at improving the ‘transferrable’ skills of our graduate and postgraduate students will also help Australia improve its STEM capacity, and provide highly valued graduates for roles in wider society.

The professional Australian astronomy community has undergone significant growth in the past decade with a rise in research capacity across the entire community, particularly in the training of higher-degree students and early-career researchers. However, Australian astronomy must address the low level of female participation amongst its workforce, which has remained at 20% over the past decade. The community should aim for at least 33% participation at all levels by 2025. This goal is aligned with the demographics of the Australian astronomy PhD student cohort at the start of this decadal planning period.

Theoretical and computational astrophysics has grown to become a focus 1 ExEcutivE summary across all areas of strength in Australian astronomy research, now representing approximately one-third of its research impact. Alongside the growing need for HPC to process data products from the next generation of telescopes, computational astrophysics in Australia will also require strategic HPC investment. The estimated HPC resource needed for Australian astronomy THE DECADAL PLAN FOR AUSTRALIAN ASTRONOMY 2016–2025 The Australian Gemini Astronomy Contests 2013’s winning image proposed by contest winner, Isobelle Teljega, in year 8 of St Margaret’s Anglican School. Within the spiral galaxy IC5332, magenta ‘bubbles’ show small bursts of new star formation. CREDIT: AAO

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decade, recommending far-reaching investments in multi-decade global projects such as the GMT and the SKA. These recent long-term investments will come to fruition in the coming decade, providing key opportunities for innovation and industry partnerships, and positioning Australia to continue as a global astronomy leader in the future. For these reasons, we have titled this Decadal Plan for Australian astronomy 2016–2025, Australia in the Era of Global Astronomy. The era of global astronomy facilities and discoveries has begun.

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THE DECADAL PLAN FOR AUSTRALIAN ASTRONOMY 2016–2025 A Halls Creek student’s reaction to seeing the Sun through a telescope for the first time. CREDIT: ICRAR 2 Audience and intent



This report, Australia in the Era of Global Astronomy, contains the strategic vision for Australian astronomy in the decade 2016–2025. It follows from New Horizons: A Decadal Plan for Australian Astronomy 2006–2015 and the subsequent mid-term review.

The outcomes and recommendations in this report are aimed at informing the primary stakeholders of Australian astronomy of the current status of the field, the strengths and progress made by the Australian astronomy community, the big scientific questions that Australia is best equipped to answer, and the infrastructure and capability priorities for the future needed to realise this ambition.

Stakeholders include Australian governments at federal and state levels, which provide the greatest source of funding that enables scientific research through agencies including the Australian Research Council (ARC), as well as Australia’s universities, which provide the greatest pool of Australia’s research capability and training. The Australian Astronomical Observatory (AAO) and CSIRO Astronomy and Space Science, which both conduct astronomical research and facilitate access for Australian astronomers to world-class telescopes, have a special role within Australian astronomy. This Decadal Plan makes 2 Audience And intent recommendations on important issues in areas of education, training and careers at all levels that are critical to maintain Australia’s position as a forefront research nation. Not all recommendations in this area are unique to astronomy.

The Australian astronomical community has worked collectively to develop this Decadal Plan. The findings and recommendations reported have been

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Over the past decade, Australian astronomers have achieved major international breakthroughs in optical/infrared (optical/IR) and radio astronomy and in theoretical astrophysics. Australian astronomers precisely measured the properties of stars, galaxies and of the Universe, significantly advancing our understanding of the cosmos. On the largest scales, the mass, geometry, and expansion of the Universe have been measured to exquisite accuracy using giant surveys of galaxies and exploding stars, and by probing the cosmic microwave background. Planetary astronomy has undergone a revolution, with the number of planets discovered around other stars now counted in the thousands.

Australian cosmologists established the technique of making simultaneous measurements of the expansion and growth history of the Universe, by measuring fluctuations in its density and distortions in its shape. Surveys at optical/IR and radio wavelengths have expanded our understanding of how galaxies formed. Pioneering instrumentation at the Anglo-Australian 3 Update: a decade of achievement Telescope (AAT) has allowed the use of stellar motions to measure the build-up of rotation in distant galaxies, showing that turbulence is driven by star formation and not cosmic accretion as previously thought.

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