ANU poised to take lead role in Australian astronomy

25 June 2018

Astronomy is an area of science in which ANU and Australia, more broadly, excels and much of our success can be attributed to the Anglo-Australian Telescope, which has been operating for more than 40 years.

ANU is poised to take a lead role in Australian astronomy that will support the nation's scientists to discover more of the Universe's secrets.

From 1 July this year, ANU will head a consortium of 13 universities to operate the 3.9-metre Anglo-Australian Telescope, Australia's largest optical telescope, as it prepares to be equipped with new instruments to keep it at the forefront of astronomy internationally.

As part of the restructuring, Australian astronomers have also gained access to powerful optical telescopes in Chile through a 10-year strategic partnership with the European Southern Observatory (ESO) supported by Australian Government funding.

The consortium will take over operation of the AAT from the Australian Astronomical Observatory in an effort to maintain a high level of capacity in optical astronomy for the nation.

ANU astronomer Professor Matthew Colless said the new partnership with ESO and arrangements for the AAT would ensure that Australia's optical astronomical research continues to help advance humanity's understanding of the Universe.

He said ANU was proud to operate the AAT on behalf of the nation.

"Astronomy is an area of science in which ANU and Australia, more broadly, excels and much of our success can be attributed to the Anglo-Australian Telescope, which has been operating for more than 40 years," said Professor Colless, who is the Director of the ANU Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics.

"As an astronomer who visited the AAT as a teenager the year after it was commissioned, who has used the telescope for my research, and who was Director of the AAO for nine years, I am delighted that the AAT will continue to be available to Australian astronomers.

 "Access to the telescope remains heavily over-subscribed by astronomers wanting to use its facilities."

Associate Professor Christopher Lidman, Director of the ANU Siding Spring Observatory where the AAT is located, said the AAT had been used in many ground-breaking astronomical surveys.

"One of these surveys, a survey called GALAH, recently mapped 350,000 stars in the Milky Way. The survey will enable scientists to understand how the Milky Way was formed and will even allow them to find the lost siblings of our Sun that were separated soon after their birth," he said.

"This is just one of the many amazing scientific achievements that have been possible thanks to the Anglo-Australian Telescope, which will help Australian astronomers make many more discoveries about our Universe well into the future."

The university consortium that will operate the AAT includes: ANU, The University of New South Wales, The University of Sydney, Macquarie University, Western Sydney University, The University of Melbourne, Swinburne University, Monash University, The University of Queensland, The University of Southern Queensland, Curtin University, The University of Tasmania and The University of Western Australia.