Giant ice cubes; giant telescopes; and pulsars

Astronomy Year, Australian Institute of Physics, Media releases
Astronomy at the Australian Institute of Physics 18th National Congress in Adelaide
The discoverer of pulsars: Jocelyn Bell Burnell

The UK’s Jocelyn Bell Burnell discovered pulsars by chance when she was a student. Detecting a bit of “scruff” on her chart recorder papers that tracked across the sky with the stars, Bell Burnell found that the signal was regularly pulsing, about once each second.

Temporarily dubbed “Little Green Man 1” the source was eventually identified as a rapidly rotating neutron star – a pulsar. Jocelyn is in Australia for the next week and is available for interview. In Adelaide she will discuss some of the properties of these ‘bizarre objects’ in a public talk on Wednesday 3 December, as well as a plenary session on Friday 5 December.

Jocelyn is also the new president of the UK Institute of Physics.

Australians use pulsars to map star systems

Swinburne’s Matthew Bailes will talk about radio pulsars – the collapsed cores of once-massive stars, which represent the densest form of matter. Some 20 km in diameter they spin at up to an astonishing 700 Hz, and emit radiation from a lighthouse beam of emission.

Australian astronomers are using these cosmic beacons to map star systems. Using the Parkes radio telescope and supercomputing instrumentation, astronomers can observe with astounding precision.

Matthew will discuss how the new data may confirm Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity by detecting background gravitational radiation.

Ten times the power of Hubble, without leaving Earth

Australia’s new chief scientist Penny Sackett will discuss plans for the international Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT), in which Australian scientists and engineers have become Founding Partners.

To be built by 2017 in Chile, it will have 100 times the light-gathering power and 10 times the resolving power of the Hubble Space Telescope.

The GMT will enable astronomers to study planets soon after they form around other stars and reveal the physics of galaxy assembly and evolution at very early epochs in the cosmos.

The world’s largest ice cube

Jenni Adams from New Zealand is looking for ultra-high-energy neutrinos from space through their interactions with the Antarctic ice cap.

Cosmic neutrinos are promising messengers to unveil very high energy cosmic ray accelerators because they travel across the universe without interference. The IceCube neutrino observatory at the South Pole uses a three-dimensional array of extremely sensitive light detectors (photomultiplier tubes) in the ice plus surface detectors of ‘air showers’ (formed when extraterrestrial cosmic rays enter our atmosphere) for the detection of high energy neutrinos.

As of February, 2008 half of the detector had been deployed, bringing the instrumented volume to roughly 0.5 cubic kilometres. Adams will present the latest results from the IceCube.

For more information on these and other stories:

Visit the Congress website at

Contact Congress program chair Olivia Samardzic 0410 575 855

Or Cathy Foley, President of the Australian Institute of Physics on 0419 200 544.