In summary

  • The team at Swinburne were part of some of the biggest space science moments of 2023

  • Highlights include Swinburne and W. M. Keck Observatory forming a historic scientific partnership to unlock new era of space discovery, Swinburne researchers tracing a powerful radio signal to a galaxy billions of lightyears away, and many more.

What a stellar year of space science! In 2023, the superstar team at Swinburne University of Technology were part of some of the biggest space moments of the year: 

Swinburne and W. M. Keck Observatory form historic scientific partnership to unlock new era of space discovery 

In 2023, Swinburne became the first organisation outside the United States to join the W. M. Keck Observatory in Hawaiʻi as a scientific partner. The new partnership doubles the number of observing nights for Swinburne researchers and provides Swinburne with a vote in setting science and technology priorities for the Observatory. 

The partnership will substantially increase Swinburne’s opportunities to lead high-impact science for the next decade, and was launched with a special message from the US Ambassador to Australia, Caroline Kennedy.

Located 4,200 metres above sea level on the dormant volcano Mauna Kea, the Keck telescopes have provided some of the most spectacular views of the universe ever obtained.

Astronomers baffled by repeat explosions 100 billion times energy of the Sun  

Astronomers were baffled by a mysterious and extremely bright event in the distant universe, nicknamed the ‘Tasmanian Devil’. A report, published in Nature, describes a Luminous Fast Blue Optical Transient that’s been observed to explode repeatedly and emit more energy than a supernova. 

Swinburne’s Professor Jeff Cooke led observations using the W. M. Keck Observatory twin telescopes in Hawaii. He says an event like this has never been witnessed before, and the mechanism behind this massive amount of energy is still unknown. 

ASTRO 3D research lab reaches gender parity in just five years

How can research agencies achieve gender parity? Swinburne’s Professor Emma Ryan-Weber is Director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for All Sky Astrophysics in 3D (ASTRO 3D), an Australian astronomy lab that achieved 50 per cent women in just five years – as outlined in a paper published in Nature Astronomy . Professor Ryan-Weber says the success offers a model for other organisations where gender equality has remained stubbornly low. Find out how the ASTRO 3D team did it.

We traced a powerful radio signal to the most distant source yet – a galaxy billions of lightyears away

In research featured in The Conversation, Swinburne’s Professor Ryan Shannon and colleagues explain how they’ve found the most distant fast radio burst ever detected: an 8-billion-year-old pulse that has been travelling for more than half the lifetime of the universe. 

Artist’s impression of a record-breaking Fast Radio Burst, passing from a distant host galaxy to the Milky Way. Image: ESO/M. Kornmesser

A spectacular fireball just streaked across Melbourne – but astronomers didn’t see it coming

Swinburne astrophysicist Professor Alan Duffy – an expert in the study of dark matter, space science and muon technologies, and the university’s inaugural Pro-Vice Chancellor (Flagship Initiatives) – analysed the ‘Melbourne fireball’. This bright light slowly streaking across the sky, captured the attention of millions and was covered in mainstream media and in The Conversation

Australia proves it’s a world leader in astronomy

Professor Virginia Kilborn, Swinburne’s Chief Scientist and chair of the National Committee for Astronomy for the Australian Academy of Science, championed Australia's role in leading a new era of astronomy. Her analysis came off the back of the announcement that Australian astronomers are a step closer to detecting the gravitational wave background, a potentially monumental discovery.

Australian astronomers find possible ‘fingerprints’ of gravitational waves

Astronomers, led by Swinburne’s Dr Daniel Reardon, found the strongest evidence yet for low-frequency gravitational waves. The team used data collected from the Parkes Pulsar Timing Array collaboration, which has monitored a set of pulsars for nearly 20 years, looking for nanosecond pulse delays caused by gravitational waves. By compiling and analysing this large data set, Dr Reardon and team took another step towards detecting gravitational waves through the study of pulsars. 

Australian astronomer wins prestigious Shaw Prize in Astronomy 

Swinburne’s pioneering astrophysicist Professor Matthew Bailes won the prestigious 2023 The Shaw Prize in Astronomy. Professor Bailes shares the USD $1.2 million Shaw Prize – a precursor to the Nobel Prize – with Professor Duncan Lorimer and Professor Maura McLaughlin. 

Professor Bailes founded the Centre for Astrophysics and Supercomputing at Swinburne in 1998, is the director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Gravitational Wave Discovery (OzGrav) and is a world leader in the study of pulsars, fast radio bursts and gravitation. Read more in The Age. 

‘We just discovered the impossible’: how giant baby galaxies are shaking up our understanding of the early Universe

In The Conversation, ARC Future Fellow and Associate Professor Ivo Labbé reflected on the hunt to discover new types of galaxies using the very first images from the James Webb Space Telescope. He and fellow researchers were searching for intrinsically red galaxies in the first roughly 750 million years of cosmic history, which have previously been difficult to find. In one survey area, they found six candidate massive galaxies whose stellar mass density were much higher than anticipated from previous studies. 

NASA’s Webb uncovers new details in Pandora’s Cluster

Associate Professor Ivo Labbé also helped reveal never-before-seen details in a region of space known as Pandora’s Cluster (Abell 2744). As co-principal investigator of the UNCOVER program, Associate Professor Labbé and a team of astronomers used cameras on NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope to capture the cluster with exposures lasting four to six hours, for a total of about 30 hours. 

The new view of Pandora’s Cluster displays roughly 50,000 sources of near-infrared light and stitches four Webb snapshots together into one panoramic image. According to Associate Professor Ivo Labbé, the research has revealed hundreds of distant lensed galaxies, which appear like faint arced lines in the image.

Astronomers estimate 50,000 sources of near-infrared light are represented in this image from NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope. It reveals three already large clusters of galaxies coming together to form a mega-cluster.  

Want to be part of the next generation of space discoveries? All Swinburne undergraduate students can study space science, microgravity science, space environment, data and visualisations, space entrepreneurship, space policy, space law and space technologies. Find out more.

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