You are driving on the freeway listening to the radio, but you become static. Enjoy it. These are the sounds of the universe.
You drive on the highway listening to the radio. Unfortunately, the radio picks up interference. Sounds a bit rough, doesn’t it?
You might be surprised to learn that statics is actually the grand opera of the universe – stars, pulsars, galaxies – all of which emit radio waves and have been doing so for billions of years.
Yes, your 2002 Honda Civic’s radio is listening to the universe, man.
But while we may all be able to connect to Cosmic FM, not all of us can understand the noise.
This is where Professor Steven Tingay comes in. He is Executive Director of the Curtin Institute for Radio Astronomy at Curtin University and Deputy Executive Director of the International Center for Radio Astronomy Research, a joint venture between Curtin University and UWA. And his team found some pretty cool stuff in this static.
Turn the cosmic dial
Using the Murchison Widefield Array Telescope (MWA), an advanced radio astronomy technology, Steven’s team discovered a pulsar – a dense, rapidly spinning neutron star that emits radio waves throughout the universe.
While this is the first pulsar detected by the MWA, located in the remote Mid-West region of Western Australia, it certainly won’t be the last. Indeed, this discovery shows how many great discoveries today are not made by traveling to new worlds, but by simply listening to what is already around us.
As Steven explains, âEach MWA antenna receives radio waves from all parts of the sky – all objects simultaneously, 24/7.
Still, you might be wondering if your car stereo can pick up the universe’s radio waves, what makes MWA so forward thinking?
Tuning into Cosmic FM is just the first step. The hard part is doing the math.
âAfter the MWA collects data, you have to process that data in different ways to extract different bits of information from different objects,â says Steven.
âWe can turn radio waves into an extremely rich data set, and you can process that data in a lot of different ways to learn different thingsâ¦ as long as you can afford the computing power.â
Indeed, if there is something that limits radio astronomers, it is not their ability to capture information. It is the ability of computers to process huge amounts of data.
So far, the MWA has collected around 40 petabytes of data, which equates to 40 million gigabytes. And if you thought it was big, say hello to the Square Kilometer Array (SKA) …
Hip to be square
One of the largest scientific endeavors in history, the SKA is a telescope with a lens – you guessed it – one square kilometer. Although, above all, it is not a goal. They are thousands of tiny lenses scattered across the world, from high frequency dishes in South Africa to small low frequency antennas in WA.
âThe MWA is made up of 4,000 individual antennas in WA, while the SKA will include over 130,000 individual antennas in WA spread over 120 km.â
âThe SKA will be much more sensitive than the MWA and will be able to create much finer images.â
“MWA is 1% of what the SKA will be.”
The final frontier
It’s going to take a lot of data, but Steven can’t wait to use this incredible tool to “ explore ” the last unexplored epoch in the evolution of the universe: its first billion years.
“In that first billion years, the first generation of stars and galaxies formed, paving the way for the evolution of the universe.”
Unlock the mysteries of the universe’s first billion years? Let’s see your 2002 Honda Civic do that!
So the next time you’re driving on the freeway and can’t connect to cricket, sit back and enjoy the static for a while. You listen to the biggest radio show in the universe, and it all depends on how we got here.
This article originally appeared on Particle. Read the original article.