Rachel Fieldhouse


New Australian telescope to help find far-flung galaxies

New Australian telescope to help find far-flung galaxies

A new multi-lensed telescope will give Australian astronomers a new set of eyes to search for and study ultra-faint galaxies and astronomical objects in the southern hemisphere.

Appropriately named the Huntsman Telescope, the instrument is made up of 10 Canon super-telephoto lenses and has begun science operations at the Siding Spring observatory in north-central NSW, near the town of Coonabarabran.

Along with spying distant astronomical objects and galaxies, the telescope is expected to be used to view transient astronomical events, such as sudden explosions of stars.

Scientists hope to use the Huntsman to further our understanding of how galaxies form and evolve, how they engage with structures around them, and what happens when galaxies collide.

According to Dr Lee Spitler, the Principal Investigator of the Huntsman Telescope, the telescope’s work will be crucial for understanding what could happen if our Milky Way Galaxy ever collided with its neighbour, the Andromeda Galaxy, which is theorised to occur in 4.5 billion years.

“The Huntsman Telescope is pioneering the way in which we view our Southern skies by capturing images of the faintest galaxy structures that conventional telescopes simply couldn’t,” Dr Spitler said in a statement.

“The ability to observe the remnants of galaxies colliding with each other and searching for the faintest and smallest galaxies in the Universe will help us understand the potential fate of the Milky Way in the far distant future.”

The Huntsman Telescope looks deep into space at the Siding Spring Observatory. Image: Macquarie University

Though named after a spider, PhD candidate Sarah Caddy said the Huntsman Telescope’s ten individual “eyes” was inspired by the northern hemisphere’s Dragonfly Array program, but its technology has been pushed even further.

“The Huntsman’s new suite of powerful computers enable each lens or ‘eye’ of the Huntsman to operate independently of each other. This will allow the telescope to autonomously detect ultra-fast transient events like stellar flares from distant stars or even more exotic phenomena like aiding the search for origin of fast radio bursts that continue to elude astronomers,” Ms Caddy explained.

“After the success of Dragonfly in the northern hemisphere, it certainly makes sense to have a similar facility here in the Southern Hemisphere to access parts of the sky that Dragonfly can’t. 

“Not only that, but Australia is home to many world-class radio telescope facilities. Combining data from radio surveys of the southern sky with Huntsman optical data will help us piece together a more complete view of how galaxies evolve.” 

“Even the geographical location of Australia is important for Huntsman’s transient science goals. Huntsman will contribute to the growing number of Australian rapid response facilities aiming to capture events like the optical counterparts to Fast Radio Burst and Gravitational Wave progenitors.

“We are so excited to see the project move from the commissioning phase into full-time science mode, and I can’t wait to see how this amazing new facility will help Astronomers explore our Universe in the years to come,” she concluded.

Image: Macquarie University