Jan 24, 2021

Characterising the Transient Radio Sky with SKA Precursors


The Square Kilometre Array (SKA) will mark a revolution in radio astronomy; through its large collecting area and novel design, it will excel in sensitivity and open a new window onto the universe. South Africa and Australia are shortlisted to host the SKA and both countries are currently constructing SKA technology demonstrators, MeerKAT (South Africa) and ASKAP (Australia). These are world-class radio telescopes in their own right. Independently, Europe has constructed LOFAR, an SKA demonstrator at low radio frequencies.

All three SKA precursor radio telescopes—LOFAR, ASKAP and MeeKAT—have dedicated Key Science Projects (KSP) that aim to characterize the transient radio sky, to study the sudden (sometimes explosive) outflow of mass from compact accreting binaries or supernovae. The extremely high level of cooperation between these projects has led to a truly global transient network of SKA precursors. The PIs of the transient KSP of each SKA precursor telescope are all based at WUN-affiliated universities; University of Sydney, University of Southampton and University of Cape Town.

At this stage of the project, whilst the SKA precursors are under construction, full-time efforts are focused on pioneering the development of real-time transient software algorithms. Dealing with huge data flows in real-time analysis (1 year of observation = 1 petabyte of data), means that detecting transients in real-time is a complex computational challenge and requires an innovative approach to data processing (e.g. using GPU computing). Through this WUN collaboration, we will develop jointly real-time transient detectors on SKA precursors, building on 5+ years of LOFAR experience, leading technology developments towards the SKA.

Who's involved

  • Associate Professor Patrick Woudt, University of Cape Town
  • Professor Rob Fender, University of Oxford
  • Professor Tara Murphy, University of Sydney
  • Professor Phil Charles, University of Southampton
  • Professor Christian Knigge, University of Southampton
  • Dr Vanessa McBride, University of Cape Town
  • Professor Paul Groot, Radboud University Nijmegen