19 November 2010

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Telecom’s 30-metre radio antenna is getting a new lease of life after being handed over to Auckland University of Technology (AUT) for use as a radio telescope - the largest in New Zealand.

Telecom has given AUT University the licence to operate the Warkworth 2 dish, based at Telecom’s Warkworth Satellite Earth Station north of Auckland, which until now has been used for used for satellite communications, including phone calls, data, internet traffic and TV content.

The majority of New Zealand’s voice and data traffic is now transmitted under the ground via fibre, and internationally through the Southern Cross cable, and advances in satellite technology over the years have resulted in improved transmission performance allowing dishes to be smaller.

As a result, Warkworth 2 has now been replaced by a newer antenna system, so Telecom was able to consider other uses for the antenna.

Telecom chief technology officer, Dave Havercroft, said it was wonderful that the antenna could be repurposed rather than being decommissioned.

“I’m delighted we can extend Telecom’s existing partnership with AUT to include the handover of Warkworth 2 for use as a radio telescope.

“This partnership will create a world-class national and international resource for radio astronomy research and will enable AUT’s Institute for Radio Astronomy and Space Research to significantly increase and develop the scope of their research programmes.

“And, importantly for New Zealand, will also build capability across other disciplines including ICT, physics, mathematics, and engineering.”

The dish, once converted into a radio telescope, will be used by AUT’s Institute for Radio Astronomy and Space Research (IRASR) to study star formation, the Milky Way’s centre and gaseous components of our Galaxy.

This will be the IRASR’s second radio telescope, the first being a 12-metre dish, also at Warkworth, built in 2008 under an agreement with Telecom.

IRASR director Professor Sergei Gulyaev says the 30-metre dish will have a collecting area six times greater than its counterpart which will mean much greater sensitivity and resolution.

“This new radio telescope is very important in terms of New Zealand’s capability in the field of astronomy. Our collecting area and spectrum range will increase by almost an order of magnitude leading to greater sensitivity. It will also enable AUT to further develop its astronomical skills and techniques.”

Professor Gulyaev says other uses for the new facility include the study of galactic nuclei other than the Milky Way, quasars, mega-masers, and cosmic molecules including organic molecules that may be indicators of extraterrestrial life.

The new radio telescope will be networked to its 12-metre counterpart and eventually will be linked to telescopes around the globe particularly in Asia and Australia. The IRASR already collaborates with NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) in the USA, ESA (European Space Agency), the Russian Space Agency and JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency).

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Katherine Murphy
Telecom NZ
027 4222 709

Andrea Malcolm
021 779-175

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