After talking about this place for the last three years, it’s great to finally be here! I’m in the Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory (MRO) located (unsurprisingly) in the Murchison Shire, North-East of Geraldton, Western Australia – future site of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) and current home the the Australian SKA Pathfinder (ASKAP) and the Murchison Widefield Array (MWA).
Following on from my boss’s (Pete Wheeler: http://petewheeler.wordpress.com/) trip up here to lay down all the mesh for the MWA, I’m with two of ICRAR’s engineers to help supervise our ‘student army’ and construct the spidery dipoles of the MWA. 7 of our students (most of them ex Summer Studentship students) have been lucky enough to make the trip with us as a neat twist on winter break work. I’ll be keeping track of my trip to the MRO through this blog with some videos and lots of photos!
We left Perth bright and early yesterday morning to drive a dog-legged route almost directly up to the MRO in a convoy with student army personnel carrier (otherwise known as a mini bus) and four wheel drive with extra-long trailer. Our destination was Wooleen Station, our accommodation for the two week trip.
The trip up was mostly uneventful until we were about 40 km out from Wooleen Station – then an errant rock bounced off the trailer and smashed in the rear window of the student army personnel carrier, leading to a few surprised noises and a shower of glass over our luggage. This led to a roadside repair using a picnic blanket so we could limp the remaining distance to Wooleen.
We effected more reliable repairs the next morning using some duct tape and spare black plasti, hoping to make it until we could head to Geraldton early next week for a more permanent fix.
The morning on site was spent on safety and cultural inductions, checking out the area and working out our plan of attack for the actual construction. Our goal is to put together all 4,096 antennas and then attach them to the previously-laid mesh in groups of 16 crossed dipoles (so 32 antennas per tile) and maybe even connect up the electronic boxes called ‘beam formers’ provided they arrive at the MRO on time! Funnily enough, beam formers form the telescope’s beams on the sky, which allows the collection of radio waves that astronomers can study. All this is not a small ask for 10 people and two weeks, but we’re firmly optimistic that we can do it!
By the end of the day, after all our setting up, briefings and waiting around for a truck to arrive, we’ve finished one crossed dipole (counts as two antennas). Well, WE haven’t. Technically it was engineer Brian demonstrating how we’ll be putting everything together tomorrow that built it, but we’re proud anyway!
Day 1 Summary
Antenna Count: 2/4096
Completed MWA Tiles: 0/128
Beam formers installed: 0/128 (0 on site)