In a desert far, far away...

At an altitude of 4865m, in the middle of the Atacama Desert in Chile, is the NANTEN2 Observatory. The atmospheric conditions here are excellent – clouds are rare, providing a clear view of the sky; the air is dry; there's no light or radio interference from cities; and it provides a great vantage point of the southern sky using a millimetre and submillimetre wave telescope. To put this in perspective, the telescope is situated at more than twice the height of Mt Kosciuszko, the highest point on the Australian mainland.

Associate Professor Miroslav Filipovic, Director Entrepreneurship, International and Engagement in the School of Computing, Engineering and Mathematics, and PhD student Graeme Wong travelled to the observatory in Pampa la Bola to observe a molecular cloud in the Carina nebula which comprises gas and dust. The trip was part of an ARC LIEF grant and was conducted in collaboration with the University of New South Wales, The University of Adelaide, University of Sydney, Macquarie University and Swinburne University, as well as University of Chile, University of Nagoya, and University of Cologne.

This isn't the first time Graeme, who is completing his PhD titled Physics and Chemistry of Dark Molecular Gas in the Milky Way Galaxy, has made the trip to the Atacama Desert. Graeme travelled there last year with Dr Nick Tothill, a Lecturer from the School of Computing, Engineering and Mathematics to use the NANTEN2 telescope. 

"The Chilean Atacama Desert is sparsely populated, but full of telescopes," says Nick. "It's one of the great centres of modern astrophysical discovery, with researchers coming from all over the world to take advantage of the conditions. Collaboration with Chile is a high priority for Australian astronomers, and we're happy that UWS is able to make its mark on the international stage."

Being able to travel to Chile as part of his PhD studies, Graeme explains how unique and important this opportunity has been. "No question – this is a unique experience," he says. "It is amazing that we have access to world-class instruments, which produce break-through science discoveries. These two observing trips are essential for my PhD research and training. This will produce significant discoveries and publications in the near future".

"It is pretty amazing over here in a desert. We take our everyday environment and lives for granted. Here, in the desert, conditions are like on Mars. No or sparse vegetation, no water, and the air is thin… It really pushes humankind to the next level."
Last year, Miroslav and Graeme contributed to a paper, with collection and analysis of data from Australian Telescope Compact Array (ATCA), which was published by the highly prestigious science journal, Nature (opens in a new window). The data collected tracked stars' developmental stages from radio pulsar to neutron star and then, temporarily, back to radio pulsar. You can read about this achievement in the News Centre article (opens in a new window)

In other UWS astronomy news, the University has recently become a member of Astronomy Australia Limited (AAL). "It's prestigious," says Miroslav. "We are one of only 12 Australian universities to become full members. It means that we have equal voting rights on major infrastructural decisions on the future of Australian astronomy." More information about AAL can be found on the AAL website (opens in a new window).

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