We are about to enter an era in astronomy where the Universe viewed through radio waves will begin to rival and exceed our view of the Universe using the more traditional visible and near-infrared wavelengths of light. This is important as radio emission allows us to trace different physical processes that are occurring in distant galaxies, and also gives us a unique method of tracing the building block of all the luminous matter we can see in the Universe today, hydrogen.
We can only begin to do this now due to technological advances in the telecommunication technology that underpins radio telescopes. With this new technology, culminating with the construction of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) from 2016, we will obtain the most comprehensive view of galaxies over the history of the Universe.
As we move towards the full operation of the SKA, there are several facilities that are testing the technology, and are in themselves revolutionary telescopes, both in the UK (eMERLIN) and the Netherlands (LOFAR and APERTIF), and the two telescopes that will eventually turn into different parts of the SKA, the South African MeerKAT and the Australian SKA Pathfinder telescopes.
Just to give an idea of how revolutionary the SKA will be, let’s consider these facts: it will contain thousands of antennas with a combined collecting area of about one square kilometre (that’s 1 000 000 square metres!), collect data in a single day that would take nearly two million years to playback on an Ipod, and use enough optical fibre to wrap twice around the Earth!”.
In Oxford we aim to meet both the technical and scientific challenges presented by the new facilities, on the pathway to the SKA.
In particular, we plan to make the first measurements of the cosmological parameters (i.e. how much dark energy and dark matter there is in the Universe and how these may evolve) and to measure the large-scale distribution of galaxies in the early Universe.
On the technical side...