Hello again Murchison Shire

I’m writing this from the Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory again. Yep, I’ve managed to get myself back up here! This time I’m travelling as part of the grand prize that ICRAR awarded to the top member of theSkyNet as part of our first anniversary celebration. We celebrated a year of achievements on September 13th – it’s almost hard to believe how much we’ve managed to get done in only twelve months.

[Haven’t heard of theSkyNet? Drop everything and watch this other video, then join us! It’s worth it, promise!]

Outreach is a messy business sometimes! My office the day before the trip (Pete was testing out our new wideangle lens for the Outreach camera.)

Outreach is a messy business sometimes! My office the day before the trip (My boss, Pete, was testing out our new wideangle lens for the ICRAR Outreach camera.) Photo: Pete Wheeler

Since the beginning of theSkyNet we’d been promising a trip to the Murchison to see the Australian SKA Pathfinder (ASKAP) and the Murchison Widefield Array (MWA) as the grand prize. Our anniversary seemed like a good time to award it, and we were excited to take our winner – Kim Hawtin or vk5fj – up to the desert to see everything that’s been going on up there.

I was also not-so-secretly excited to be making my third trip to the MRO and to see the progress that has been made on the MWA and ASKAP since I was last there.

We set off from Perth bright and early yesterday morning, ready for the 8.5 hour car trip. Perhaps ready isn’t the right word, but there was definitely a good feeling in the car as we headed off on the trip.

Kim and Pete, up front as we head out of Perth.

Kim and Pete, up front as we head out of Perth.

We also brought theSkyNet team member and astronomer Tim Young along for the ride too. Conversation obviously centred on theSkyNet for the first little while, but started to branch off by the time we reached the outskirts of Perth.

Heading North out of Perth via the Swan Valley. Kim's comment 'it's not really very valley like'.

Heading North out of Perth via the Swan Valley. Kim’s comment ‘it’s not really very valley like’ (Kim lives in Adelaide’s hills.)

The trip up to the MRO is about 600km tarmac and then a further 200km on dirt roads, peppered with small towns and different terrain the whole way.

Tim checking our route in the map book, and working out how much longer until we hit the dirst roads.

Tim checking our route in the map book, and working out how much longer until we hit the dirt roads.

While only about halfway to Boolardy, the terrain changes again to rolling fields and blue skies.

At only about halfway to Boolardy, the terrain changes to rolling fields and blue skies.

Lunch break in Morrowa, hanging out out the front of the visitor's centre on the main strip.

Lunch break in Morowa, hanging out in front of the visitor’s centre on the main strip.

After lunch, the time spent sitting trapped in a metal box started to take its toll on us all…

Tim prepares for Halloween tomorrow (or just blocks out the Sun for a snooze...)

Tim prepares for Halloween tomorrow (or just blocks out the Sun for a snooze…)

Tim checking through his photos of the trip so far.

Tim checking through his photos of the trip so far, good entertainment for the long hours stuck in the ute.

Many road trains (and real trains) later, we got to the end of the tarmac!

The intersection between tarmac and dirt road, where Pete stops for a break up in the ute's tray.

The intersection between tarmac and dirt road, where Pete stops for a break, up in the ute’s tray.

We've hit the dirt!

We’ve hit the dirt! About 200 km to go until we get to Boolardy Station now, all on dirt roads.

We then took the windy path from past Mullewa out to Boolardy Station where we spent the night.

I look up from the directions to the MRO to a camera lens in my face! Photo: Tim Young.

I look up from the directions to the MRO to a camera lens in my face! Photo: Tim Young.

We got in to Boolardy about 5pm, but instead of heading in and getting ready for dinner we ducked straight out to the MRO site to meet MWA engineer Brian and astronomer Martin so we could set up our camera for a timelapse of the night sky over the MWA. The timelapse isn’t quite ready yet, but here’s a little teaser of one of the images for you.

Our favourite tile of the MWA, with the breakaway to the South West.

Our favourite tile of the MWA, with the breakaway to the South West lit by the full Moon with some faint stars peeking through the clouds.

Hopefully we’ll be able to share the full thing in the next few days (we’re also going to take another one tonight.)

We’re about halfway through a fun filled day at site right now (it included getting to go inside an ASKAP dish!) More on that tomorrow.

Astronomy – Guerrilla Style

As my first post under my new blog name, I thought i’d share a little about something I’m still amazed I get paid to do!  Every now and again I get to take the ICRAR outreach telescopes out to play with a few keen astronomers. The post below first appeared as part of the Australian Science Communicators (ASC) newsletter earlier this year.

ICRAR's Guerrila Astronomers on the Perth foreshore, with International Space Station and stars in view. Credit: Dr Brad Warren.

ICRAR’s Guerrila Astronomers on the Perth foreshore, with International Space Station and stars in view. Credit: Dr Brad Warren.

I have a confession – I love astronomy. Something about it has fascinated me ever since I can remember. Understandably then, it’s something I am very passionate about. This is why I was quite taken aback when I heard “People aren’t interested in looking through telescopes anymore,” during a session at the recent ASC National Conference.  From a respected astronomer no less! Luckily for me and my love of astronomy, her experience couldn’t be further from my own.

As part of my role in the Outreach and Education team at ICRAR I take a lot of telescopes to a lot of places and people are always interested to look through them, at them, or just talk about them.

One of my favourite outreach strategies is the idea of ‘Guerrilla Astronomy’ – taking a telescope somewhere people will least expect it and introducing them to astronomy with no advertising or attempt to gather an audience.

Myself and a band of ICRAR’s professional astronomers take a small (but still impressive looking) telescope or two out to the side of a bike path, to the middle of the CBD shopping precinct, or to another outdoor event and simply stand next to our telescopes talking to anyone that comes near. People always come near, and the result is something that never ceases to remind me why I do what I do.

From the woman on her evening jog who got straight back in the car after seeing the Moon to go get her kids; to the children who wont let anyone else have a turn because they are so mesmerised by the Orion Nebula; through to a member of the public helping his elderly mother take her first close up look at Jupiter and its moons, and her gasp when the image became clear to her through the eyepiece. Talking with the astronomers who join me on these evenings, we have so many more positive engagement stories like these. To me, this kind of work is the most important and most interesting part of science communication – engaging with the unengaged and giving them a positive experience of science to take away.

There’s probably a large combination of things that make these events so successful – the unexpected experience, and therefore no expectations of what will happen, us being conveniently located where people are already, and in the evening when there’s sometimes a bit more time to spare. But I like to think that the telescopes themselves play a big part in it – they’re an ingeniously simple piece of machinery (just a couple of mirrors and a lens when you get down to it) that pack a big punch and make the previously invisible, visible.  Nothing beats seeing the red spot on Jupiter in person ‘for real’ and knowing that the light has travelled from the depths of the Sun where it was created in a nuclear reaction, all the way out to Jupiter (741 million kilometres) and then bounced off right back into this telescope and then your eye. Or maybe that’s just me?

I’ll admit, sometimes it is frustrating the first question is ‘How much is it worth?’ but there are always more questions, and I like to think that they’re only asking because they think it’s so cool they want one too!

Nevertheless, the benefits to me, to ICRAR, and our astronomers stemming from Guerrilla Astronomy are numerous. It never ceases to inspire a researcher to be told their life’s work is utterly fascinating by either a 5 or 75 year old, and they get told often and emphatically at these impromptu events. We’ve also had so many people follow up for more information, attending our other larger events, or even organising us to visit their school or club for a talk stemming from one simple interaction by the Swan River on a Wednesday night.

A recent Guerrilla Astronomy event had over 150 people look through our telescopes over the course of two hours, without us even having to put a sign out!

_____

And now a short update!

A few weeks ago the winter weather was finally banished from Perth and we started up Guerrilla Astronomy for another season. I managed to entice two of ICRAR’s keen photographers to come down and join us for our first night, and they both made timelapse videos for us. Here’s the one by Dr Brad Warren (who made the image up top by stacking together frames from his timelapse.)

If you’re in Perth and want to join us on a Guerrilla Astronomy, we usually Facebook and Tweet (www.facebook.com/icrar, @icrar) in the afternoon that we’ll be out that night.

Change is in the air

Hello! If you’ve been to my blog before you may have noticed a slight change in what’s going on here – it used to be titled ‘MWA Student Army; constructing the Murchison Widefield Array’.

All those posts are still below, detailing the two trips I got to take with a group of university students to the gorgeous Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory in WA.

I’ll be back up in the Murchison in a few weeks (I can barely contain my excitement) and will definitely blog about that, but I’m also expanding into all the things I do as part of my adventures in astronomy outreach and education.

There’s a few exciting things in the air at the moment, and I’ll be keeping more regular updates on the MWA project here as well (it’s coming along so fast – I can barely believe the telescope is going to be launched in 6 weeks!)
I’m planning on writing about anything that takes my fancy in astronomy and the world of communicating science, so feel free to suggest a topic you’d like me to write about.

Otherwise, enjoy my more frequent stories from the world of astronomy in Western Australia.

Kirsten

We did it!

I’m very glad to report that there was no unexpected disaster (like the weather setting in, or a flat tire) that stopped us from achieving our goal. We finished the beamformers and now the MWA is ready to be plugged in to its receivers and then science commissioning to start! Phew, what a week we’ve had.

Working on the last beamformer, great feeling.

Working on the last beamformer, great feeling. Photo Tom Booler.

The proud team after completing the last beamformer. Sammy even has his 'victory torque wrench' in his hand (the tool we use to tighten the connectors up to the exact right tightness).

The proud team after completing the last beamformer. Sammy even has his ‘victory torque wrench’ in his hand (the tool we use to tighten the connectors up to the exact right tightness). Look at those clouds! Blue skies all week, then the last day threatened to rain us out again, but the weather held. Photo Tom Booler.

Prabu getting another receiver ready with Dave, Sammy and Luke in the background shining lasers through optical fibre.

Prabu getting another receiver ready with Dave, Sammy and Luke in the background shining lasers through optical fibre. Yep, we get to do lots of fun things!

On our way out of site for the trip to Geraldton Tom stopped by ASKAP so we could have a peek at their awesome progress. We'd been 'showing off' over the radio with our progress all week by calling in every tile we'd finished to base (mostly so they knew where we were at), so it was good to see the other side.

On our way out of site for the trip to Geraldton Tom stopped by ASKAP so we could have a peek at their awesome progress. We’d been ‘showing off’ over the radio with our progress all week by calling in every tile we’d finished to base (mostly so they knew where we were at), so it was good to see the other side of the fence.

A big dish next to a little one! I'm not exactly sure what the little dish is for, but it's a safe bet that it's collecting a signal from a satellite.

A big dish next to a little one! I’m not exactly sure what the little dish is for, but it’s a safe bet that it’s collecting a signal from a satellite.

As we headed towards Geraldton for our flight home we passed by the MRO information sign, asking travellers to help keep it radio quiet. It needs an update now we know some of the SKA is coming to WA!

As we headed towards Geraldton for our flight home we passed by the MRO information sign, asking travelers to help keep it radio quiet. It needs an update now we know some of the SKA is coming to WA!

After our exciting morning (which featured ‘celebration cake’ after working on the last two beamformers) we took the trip back to Geraldton with Tom, who dropped us at the airport. On our way through town we ran into David Pollock from Wooleen with two of his temporary staff members, Amy and Maxi, who were also getting dropped off.  Amy was even on the same flight as us! It was great to run into them and catch up a little – Wooleen now has its own MWA tile made from spare parts and prototypes. Tourist attraction for sure!

Now we’re all back in Perth nursing the sore spots you get when finger tightening over 2,000 cables and screwing in over 2,000 screws in four days. It’s another bittersweet feeling to have left the Murchison and hopefully we’ll get to go back again some time in the (not too distant) future.

The first round of science commissioning starts in the next few weeks, so I’m going to try get one of the scientists to give us a guest blog or two, but for now see you later – I’m off to bed for some well earned rest.

Trip 2 Day 5 Summary

Antenna Count: 4096/4096 – Completed last trip
Completed MWA Tiles: 128/128
Beam formers assembled: 128/128
Beam formers installed: 128/128
Beam formers with bricks: 60/128
Receivers on pads ?/16 (I’ll find out from Dave how many they got to and update this ASAP)

Only two beamformers to go

We almost made it! Only two left… Lucky for us we can do them tomorrow morning before the drive to Geraldton for our flight home. The feeling is amazing that we managed to top yesterday’s effort of 30 beamformers to install 36, and that we’ll get it all done (barring weather getting in our way again or something… I’m touching wood right now!)

The last two beamformers ready for installation tomorrow morning!

The last two beamformers ready for installation tomorrow morning!

Installing the beamformer on the 'last tile' - the one we put the dipoles on last on our first trip up here. A nostalgic experience today (but not the last tile to get a beamformer!)

Installing the beamformer on the ‘last tile’ – the one we put the dipoles on last on our first trip up here. A nostalgic experience today (but not the last tile to get a beamformer!)

We did the cabling on these tiles three days ago, and this little plant wasn't there then... We thought we must have been mistaken, but nope we definitely did this tile and no plant...

We did the cabling on these tiles three days ago, and this little plant wasn’t there then… We thought we must have been mistaken, but nope we definitely did this tile and no plant…

While we were running around installing 36 (!!) beamformers, Dave, Tom and Prabu were busy back in the office.  The brains for another receiver are ready to go out first thing tomorrow, and they’re planning on a fourth being ready to go by tomorrow afternoon. Excellent progress made all round.

Prabu getting a receiver ready for installation in its box.

Prabu getting a receiver ready for installation in its box.

Dave explaining the innards of a receiver to Sammy, Luke and Me.

Dave explaining the innards of a receiver to Sammy, Luke and Me.

Even though we were in ‘heads down, work harder’ mode today, we still managed to glimpse some wildflowers and wildlife.

On the hunt for wildflowers again I spotted these little white 'poofs' next to a tile. It's amazing how different the terrain and plant life can be around different tiles, especially given the MWA is mostly within a 2km square!

On the hunt for wildflowers again I spotted these little white ‘poofs’ next to a tile. It’s amazing how different the terrain and plant life can be around different tiles, especially given the MWA is mostly within a 2km square!

This little lizard (maybe a gecko?) was hanging upside down from the cabling when we pulled up to install the beamformer. Photo Luke Horsley.

This little lizard was hanging upside down from the cabling when we pulled up to install the beamformer. Photo Luke Horsley.

A giant eagle's nest next to an outer-edge tile, unfortunately no eagles at home. Photo Luke Horsley.

A giant eagle’s nest next to an outer-edge tile, unfortunately no eagles at home. Photo Luke Horsley.

As part of our trip around the tiles, we also got to ‘service’ some dipoles today – basically taking their lids off, undoing the screws that attach the amplifier to the aluminium ‘bat wings’ and checking it all out. It added some variety to our day, and it’s good to see the ‘service’ loops we added in when cabling actually doing their job and allowing you to pull apart a dipole without needing to uncable the whole tile.  It was also a great feeling to just know what to do when we were asked to service them – we’ve learned so much on our two trips about almost everything that goes into the MWA.

On our last night at Boolardy some clouds rolled in to give us this gorgeous sunset - the photo doesn't really do the colours justice.

On our last night at Boolardy some clouds rolled in to give us this gorgeous sunset – the photo doesn’t really do the colours justice.

Trip 2 Day 4 Summary

Antenna Count: 4096/4096 – Completed last trip
Completed MWA Tiles: 128/128
Beam formers assembled: 128/128
Beam formers installed: 126/128 (128 on site)
Beam formers with bricks: 60/128
Receivers on pads 2/16

Alpha, Beta, Gamma are good to go!

Day three started a bit more slowly with some admin in the office, and then reached frenzy pitch in the afternoon as we reached the countdown to home time.

Our task today was to start installing the beamformers we constructed yesterday. There were already 60 out and installed, which leaves 68 for us to put in in just two days. We were optimistic this morning and last night, and then the optimism fell away after lunch when we realised how long it was taking us – but we did manage to get all the beamformers for the Alpha, Beta and Gamma parts of the array complete – which only leaves Delta and Epsilon left (which are smaller than the rest.)

A very quick snap of the start of our day - laying out our final four beamformers in the core to complete the Beta array (Alpha was completed on trip 1 and fully adjusted on this trip.)

A very quick snap of the start of our day – laying out our final four beamformers in the core to complete the Beta array (Alpha was completed on trip 1 and fully adjusted on this trip.)

We got to visit some of my favourite tiles today. Yep, I have favourites – wouldn’t you with views like this at work?

Sammy and Luke installing a beamformer on the tile right near the breakaways.

Sammy and Luke installing a beamformer on the tile right near the breakaways.

We also had some further excitement today – Tom left in one of our cars for Geraldton before breakfast this morning to meet a light plane to take some aerial photographs of the site.

The tiny plane (circa 1972!) that circled overhead for about 3 hours with a photographer hanging out.

The tiny plane (circa 1972!) that circled overhead for about 3 hours with a photographer hanging out.

They took both stills and a movie while flying overhead – we’re all interested to see the results.

A shaky camera phone shot of the photographing plane. (Photo Luke Horsley)

A shaky camera phone shot of the photographing plane. (Photo Luke Horsley)

I was (of course) on the lookout for more wildflowers today, and the MRO provided. These little flowers almost looked like 'paper flowers' and I only saw them in one small patch of tiles near the airstrip.

I was (of course) on the lookout for more wildflowers today, and the MRO provided. These little flowers almost looked like ‘paper flowers’ and I only saw them in one small patch of tiles near the airstrip.

This tiny plant looks completely dead, except for the purple flower sprouting out of it. The ruler isn't intended for scale - it was holding the flower still in the wind for a photo!

This tiny plant looks completely dead, except for the purple flower sprouting out of it. The ruler isn’t intended for scale – it was holding the flower still in the wind for a photo!

I found some bright yellow wildflowers out near the breakaways. You can kind of see Sammy and Luke working hard in the background.

I found some bright yellow wildflowers out near the breakaways. You can kind of see Sammy and Luke working hard in the background.

Unfortunately the flowers and wildlife couldn’t distract us from realising the inevitable – we weren’t going to be able to install all the beamformers.  Dave has specifically said to us a number of times that there’s no pressure to finish but we really don’t want to leave another job incomplete. We were being pretty down about it (some of us still hopeful we could make it) when we learned we didn’t have to leave for our flight home first thing on Saturday morning, so we can hopefully finish up the job then.  That was the highlight of dinner for me tonight – knowing we’d have the chance to do them all!

Bring on tomorrow I say!

Continuing our tour of Boolardy, here’s a glimpse of the kitchen…

The kitchen and part of the dining room at Boolardy. That fridge contains lunch for tomorrow (including a box full of cakes!)

The kitchen and part of the dining room at Boolardy. That fridge contains lunch for tomorrow (including a box full of cakes!)

…and the tasty dinner that came out of it tonight!

Dinner tonight, the food is great here at Boolardy too, though I think Luke laments the lack of 'extra cheese'! (Food styling by Sammy.)

Dinner tonight, the food is great here at Boolardy too, though I think Luke laments the lack of ‘extra cheese’! (Food styling by Sammy.)

Come back and join us for our last full day tomorrow, where hopefully I can report all the beamformers getting installed.

While all our adventuring was happening today, I should add that Prabu and Dave got another of the 16 receivers on its pad and hooked up – great job guys.  They are planning on getting the third started, if not finished tomorrow. Lots of hard work going on out here!

Antenna Count: 4096/4096 – Completed last trip
Completed MWA Tiles: 128/128
Beam formers assembled: 128/128
Beam formers installed: 90/128 (128 on site)
Beam formers with bricks: 65/128
Receivers on pads 2/16

Building Beamformers

Another busy day today, we got heaps done. But the first task of the day…

Dave makes a quick adjustment... to my belt! It needed a few more holes so I could make it small enough, and Dave was kind enough to oblige.

Dave makes a quick adjustment… to my belt! It needed a few more holes so I could make it small enough, and Dave was kind enough to oblige.

After that quick job we spent the rest of the morning adjusting all 60 beamformers that were already installed last trip.  This involved unscrewing and then rescrewing almost 2,000 screws to get the lids off and on again.

Sammy and Luke undoing all the screws on a beamformer to make an adjustment.

Sammy and Luke undoing all the screws on a beamformer to make an adjustment.

Luke and Sammy adjusting a beamformer. You can see the delay lines on the circuit board that add in the delays to the signals - that's what points the telescope.

Luke and Sammy adjusting a beamformer. You can see the delay lines on the circuit board that add in the delays to the signals – that’s what points the telescope.

While running around the core I spotted some more wildflowers.

Subtle purple wildflowers around the site.

Subtle purple wildflowers around the site.

The bush with this flower looks very sad for most of the year, something you wouldn't look twice at. Now it's got these really unusual waxy flowers.

The bush with this flower looks very sad for most of the year, something you wouldn’t look twice at. Now it’s got these really unusual waxy flowers.

Luke adjusting a beamformer in the background of some more lovely wildflowers.

Luke adjusting a beamformer in the background of some more lovely wildflowers.

Prabu working his magic again on the brains of a receiver.

Prabu working his magic again on the brains of a receiver.

After lunch we got to building the other 68 beamformers that have now arrived on site. They come semi-constructed in boxes and need to have their legs and raincovers put on (another 600 screws…).

Sammy and I building beamformers! Photo Tom Booler.

Sammy and I building beamformers! Photo Tom Booler.

After one or two we had our production line down pat and managed to build all 68 by this afternoon!

Overflow beamformers stacked up in the sunset. Tomorrow it's time to start installing them!

Overflow beamformers stacked up in the sunset. Tomorrow it’s time to start installing them.

The almost-full Moon looks over the dipole graveyard.

The almost-full Moon looks over the dipole graveyard.

We also thought you might like a quick peek into what it’s like staying at Boolardy Station, where all the astronomers, engineers and technicians usually stay when working at the MRO.

All the rooms are named after local stations and land marks, with a run down of the history within each room. Mine is 'Twin Peaks' a close by station that shares a border with Wooleen.

All the rooms are named after local stations and land marks, with a run down of the history within each room. Mine is ‘Twin Peaks’ a close by station that shares a border with Wooleen.

Looking in from the door you see the bed on the left, and a wardrobe on the right (out of view).

Looking in from the door you see the bed on the left, and a wardrobe on the right (out of view).

Next to the door is a little desk and fridge.

Next to the door is a little desk and fridge.

Finally, we have our own little bathroom with shower and toilet. It's lovely to not have to join a queue!

Finally, we have our own little bathroom with shower and toilet. It’s lovely to not have to join a queue!

And I’ll leave you with some scenes of Boolardy at sunset.

A magnificent eagles nest, with eagles come home for the night, at Boolardy. Photo Luke Horsley.

A magnificent eagles’ nest, with eagles come home for the night, at Boolardy. Photo Luke Horsley.

Life on Boolardy Station. Photo Luke Horsley.

Life on Boolardy Station. Photo Luke Horsley.

Trip 2 Day 2 Summary

Antenna Count: 4096/4096 – Completed last trip
Completed MWA Tiles: 128/128
Beam formers assembled: 128/128
Beam formers installed: 60/128 (128 on site)
Beam formers with bricks: 60/128
Receivers on pads 1/16

Completing the Cabling

The receivers (and us) have arrived back on site. The office 'donga' was in a much much tidier state than when we'd last left it - then we'd shoved everything we could find inside out of the rain and driven off!

The receivers (and us) have arrived back on site. The office ‘donga’ was in a much tidier state than when we’d last left it – last time we’d shoved everything we could find inside out of the rain and driven off!

We had a busy and productive day today and got heaps done.

Today our job was to finish off the final 12 tiles by laying out and tying down their cables. Sammy, Luke and I were quickly back in the swing of it and Project Manager Tom joined us for the last few tiles.

Today our job was to finish off the final 12 tiles by laying out and tying down their cables. Sammy, Luke and I were quickly back in the swing of it and Project Manager Tom joined us for the last few tiles.

Wildflowers are certainly out, but you have to look carefully to spot some of them. This tiny gem is seen all over some of the tile - for scale the mesh square is 5cm wide! Anyone know what this one is?

Wildflowers are certainly out, but you have to look carefully to spot some of them. This tiny gem is seen all over some of the tiles – for scale the mesh square is 5cm wide! Anyone know what this one is?

We caught our first glimpse of a Bungara (did I spell that right?) It was feasting on some kangaroo when we happened past it on the way to our last tile.

We caught our first glimpse of a Bungarra (did I spell that right?) It was feasting on some kangaroo when we happened past it on the way to our last tile.

Sammy and Luke working on the cabling coiling for the very last tile. This one was an adventure to get to through the bush. It's a good feeling - we've finished everything we were tasked with last trip!

Sammy and Luke working on the cabling coiling for the very last tile. This one was an adventure to get to through the bush. It’s a good feeling – we’ve finished everything we were tasked with last trip!

While we were busy getting all this work done, Engineers Dave and Prabu were even busier putting receiver enclosures out onto their pads throughout the site, and Prabu has spent a lot of the day working on the ‘guts’ (or brains) of one of the receivers.

The plan for tomorrow is beamformer installation and adjustments on the existing 60 beamformers for us and Dave, Tom and Prabu will be working on the communications hut, office work and more work on receiver brains.

Trip 2 Day 1 Summary

Antenna Count: 4096/4096 – Completed last trip
Completed MWA Tiles: 128/128
Beam formers installed: 60/128 (128 on site)
Beam formers with bricks: 11/128
Receivers on pads 1/16

We’re back!

Welcome to the Murchison Shire. It's good to be back!

Welcome to the Murchison Shire. It’s good to be back!

After leaving the Murchison and this blog on a slightly incomplete note last month, it’s great to be back in the Murchison with a subset of the student army to finish what we started!  We’ve come up with students Luke and Sammy, along with Commissioning Engineer Dave, Project Manager Tom and RRI Engineer Prabu (RRI is the Raman Research Institute in India, one of the partner organisations in the MWA) and of course me.

We all drove up from Perth today and reached the beautiful Murchison Shire (staying at Boolardy Station this time) about 5:30 this evening.

This morning we finished the last minute packing that always precedes a long trip and then hit the road.

How many engineers does it take to pack a trailer? Putting the cover on one of the two trailers this morning, just before hitting the road from Curtin University.

How many engineers does it take to pack a trailer? Putting the cover on one of the two trailers this morning, just before hitting the road from Curtin University.

The land (before we hit the dirt road) is looking very lush and green, with the occasional yellow canola field.

The land (before we hit the dirt road) is looking very lush and green, with the occasional yellow canola field.

Wildflower season is in full swing up here. I'm looking forward to seeing what the MWA site has to offer tomorrow. Puntastic-engineer Dave says 'blooming marvelous'. ;)

Wildflower season is in full swing up here. I’m looking forward to seeing what the MWA site has to offer tomorrow.

The trailer full of MWA receivers just after we hit the dirt road. We still had about 200km to go at this point!

The trailer full of MWA receivers just after we hit the dirt road. We still had about 200km to go at this point!

We've arrived at Boolardy Station, this trip's accommodation, just in time for a gorgeous sunset.

We’ve arrived at Boolardy Station, this trip’s accommodation, just in time for a gorgeous sunset.

Our goal this trip is to finish cabling those last 12 tiles (which I am understandably really excited for, I felt so bad leaving them behind last time) as well as install the remaining 68 beamformers and putting bricks under the 60 we’ve already installed. Engineer Dave insists it’s 19 days of work in only 4 days but, and I quote, ‘We’ll get it done in 2’ says Luke.  I’m not so sure, but I think we’ve got a very good shot. The engineers and Tom will be laying out cable and installing receiver enclosures on the receiver pads for the Alpha part of the array.

As always, wish us luck for this short four day adventure into getting the MWA closer to completion!

Trip 2 Day 0 Summary

Antenna Count: 4096/4096 – Completed last trip
Completed MWA Tiles: 116/128
Beam formers installed: 60/128 (128 on site)
Beam formers with bricks: 0/128
Receivers on pads 1/16

Rain rain go away!

So close… yet so far. This morning was beautiful, but then the rains came in.  Not happy! But we’ll get to that in a moment.

This morning we had three sets of visitors – some contractors doing some work on the MWA power hut, a photographer from The West Australian, and CSIRO are now on site working on ASKAP so they popped over to the MWA for a visit as well.

Michael from The West Australian came up to the MRO to take some ‘hero shots’ – as he called them – of our engineers for an upcoming engineering liftout.  He also spent some time over with ASKAP and the CSIRO engineers, and with any luck a photo of an ASKAP dish will end up on the front cover!

Michael from The West Australian visited the MRO this morning for some photos of our engineers.

Michael from The West Australian visited the MRO this morning for some photos of our engineers.

Look at that beautiful weather! Sigh.

Brian and Dave 'servicing a dipole' for the pictures.

Brian and Dave ‘servicing a dipole’ for the pictures.

About the same time our contractors arrived to do some testing and work on the MWA power hut which sits down near the MWA office.

The power hut for the MWA with the contractors taking a look.

The power hut for the MWA with the contractors taking a look.

While all this was going on we worked out the best plan of action to get our remaining tiles cabled and the student army did a few tiles before lunch.

Then after a short lunch, it started to drop a little and the clouds started getting darker so we rushed around to get as much as possible done before the rain set in.  Unfortunately, the rain got steadily heavier and we’ve had to stop 12 tiles short! I’ve been too busy running around getting cabling done and packing things up to get any photos of the rain, so you’ll just have to imagine the soaked engineers and students with windswept looks of disappointment.

We’re so, so close.  Next time I’ll have to have an anti-rain dance up my sleeve.

Anyway, time to hit the road back to Wooleen, we’re about to shut off the generator (for the last time of our trip – bittersweet) which means no more internet, so I better click post!  I’ll pop back for more blog when we get back to Perth tomorrow night, but for now it’s good bye from the MWA Student Army on Day 12.

Day 12 Summary

Antenna Count: 4096/4096
Completed MWA Tiles: 116/128
Beam formers installed: 60/128 (60 on site)

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