Alpha, Beta crossed off the list

Another productive day out in the Murchison today, but first we’ve been listening to the exciting CERN announcement live whilst building dipole turrets. Go CERN and the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) – we’re all very excited for you and your excellent result.If you’re not too sure what the Higgs Boson is all about, this video might help.

The LHC is often called the largest science experiment on Earth, but I’m proud to say the SKA will overtake it when it’s all finished. It’s certainly an exciting time to be a scientist!

Today (day 6) we crossed the ‘alpha’ and ‘beta’ parts of the MWA off our list – bring on the ‘gamma’ section next.  This is good, good news as once beam formers arrive on site and are installed, and then hooked up to the receivers, these sections are first for ‘science commissioning’ – so they’ve been our number one priority for the student army trip.  Everything else is just icing on the cake!

We've crossed the divide and started constructing tiles to the south of the office!

We’ve crossed the divide and started constructing tiles to the South of the office! Now we’re working far more spread out which makes the tiles seem lonely to me.

Speaking of science commissioning, MWA Commissioning Scientist Dr Randall Wayth (who’s birthday happens to be today – happy birthday from all of us Randall) sent me a great explanation via email yesterday, to add to my not-as-helpful explanation the other day:

“The not-too-informative answer is that it is the period during commissioning when we try to do some science! Specifically, this is after
all the tiles etc have received their “OK” from the engineers so should be capable of taking science quality data. The commissioning
period is divided up into staggered windows of engineering and science commissioning times as receivers are deployed and tested. [That’s the Alpha, Beta etc. split I think.]

There are a number of science commissioning programs. They include ones specifically aimed at detailed instrument verification, like
confirming the locations of the tiles on the ground using astronomical data (sounds silly, but the stars are the ultimate reference
frame, and it is actually quite easy to muck up where you think you are on the ground based on surveying alone. Observing distant
radio sources gives you an absolute position on the Earth. This is why things like continental drift are measured using radio
telescopes and Very Long Baseline Interferometry.) [VLBI is the technique used by radio astronomers to get very detailed images of the radio sky – it uses antennas often seperated by continents, or even connecting ground based telescopes to a radio telescope in space.]

Then there much more science-focussed projects like a survey of the sky from 104-195 MHz. All of the science commissioning programs
have the dual goals of trying to do some novel science as well as being useful to verify the performance of the array.”
The students are getting very good at dipole creation, it’s like they’re breeding. I have a timelapse of them piling up waiting to be clipped on tiles that should be ready for tomorrow. Many of them are ‘unlocking achievements’ left right and centre. I’m loving seeing what decoration they all add on their significant numbers.

Student Army Officer Sammy McSweeny with his 100th dipole turret.

Student Army Officer Sammy McSweeny with his 100th dipole turret.

Student Army Officer Sue Khoo's 100th Turret.

Student Army Officer Sue Khoo’s 100th Turret. Just quietly, Sue is a big Portal fan and is reponsible for our renaming of the crossed dipole antennas to turrets.

Kim Steele with her 200th turret.

Dipole Queen Kim Steele with her 200th turret. I am on a measly 65, but have been off doing other jobs (that’s my excuse and i’m sticking to it.)

Morale still seems to be at a high, my theory is it’s all due to things like this:

You need to create your own entertainment within the tedium of making dipole turrets!

You need to create your own entertainment within the tedium of making dipole turrets! This annotation thanks to student Teresa Slaven-Blair. There are a few more of these ‘easter eggs’ for the engineers and scientists to find during commissioning and repairs!

I unlocked my own achievement today, cabling an entire tile on my own.

I fully cabled my own tile today (only took about 1.5 hours!) This means I get to name it right? I vote yes!

I fully cabled my own tile (only took about 1.5 hours!) This means I get to name it, right? I vote yes!

Tile 53 - now dubbed 'Kirsten 1'

Tile 53 – now dubbed ‘Kirsten 1’

So, all up another great day – and we’re now halfway through our time in the Murchison.

I took this timelapse of us in the core region on Day 4 – it accounts for about 3 and a half hours of real time and shows how fast everything has been springing up.  I wish I could take a photo of the whole MWA for you all, but I’ll do second best and get a map that shows the layout uploaded for tomorrow.

We’re halfway there in time, and halfway there in tiles (61 tiles fully complete, with three more laid out and just needing cabling). It looks like we’re in a good position to finish it, but as we get further from the core it takes longer to lay out the tiles, so it might look more promising than it is.  Cross your fingers for us folks.

Day 6 Summary

Antenna Count: 2146/4096
Completed MWA Tiles: 61/128
Beam formers installed: 0/128 (0 on site)


About Kirsten Gottschalk

Outreach and Education Officer at The International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR). I was lucky enough to join our engineers and 'student army' to build a good share of the Murchison Widefield Array, the low frequency precursor to the Square Kilometre Array on the future SKA site in WA. All images and content on this blog are copyright, unless otherwise attributed. If you'd like to use any of my photos, send me an email and I'd be happy to help -

One response to “Alpha, Beta crossed off the list

  1. Bob Steele

    Way to go Mo 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

    200, wow!!! It’s ok, I’m Kim’s Dad 🙂 . Oh and I see you’ve been anointed “Dipole Queen” 🙂 .

    Oh oh oh, well done all of you. Those numbers up above are looking like half-way 🙂

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Copyright Notice

All images and content on this blog is copyright. I'd be happy to help you out if you want to use any text or images that I've produced, simply send me an email - - and we can chat about it.
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