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Stargazing: Dignitaries watch as ASKAP is turned on.
Ben O'Halloran Stargazing: Dignitaries watch as ASKAP is turned on.

CSIRO on Friday launched the world’s most powerful radioastronomy satellite — the Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder — which will shine a light on the creation of our universe.

The $150 million ASKAP project, located 315km northeast of Geraldton, consists of 36 highpowered satellites capable of massive data collection, the likes of which has never been seen before.

The project will begin collecting data from next year.

Federal Minister for Science and Research Chris Evans said the ASKAP project demonstrated a broadening of scientific capacity and expertise and proved Australia was a world-leading scientific nation.

“Through ASKAP, Australia will be providing the world’s astronomers with access to a cutting edge facility, enabling research into the origins of the universe,” he said.

“In just its first six hours of operation ASKAP will generate more information than is currently held in the world’s radio-astronomy archives.

“It will give astronomers the ability to study the evolution of galaxies and dark matter, to look for the first black holes and stars and search for life on other planets.”

ASKAP forms the base or precursor to the international Square Kilometre Array project, which will be the biggest radio-astronomy project in the world.

Australia and New Zealand have been selected by an international board to host the $1.9 billion project together with Southern Africa.

CSIRO chief executive Megan Clark said Australia had a long history of radio-astronomy with ASKAP set to expand on human understanding of the universe.

“This is again Australia taking a leap forward to lead in radio-astronomy,” she said.

“We’re predicting that in the very early stages of discovery … we’ll discover more than 700,000 new super galaxies — things that we haven’t seen before.

“We already have 161 institutions and more than 360 astronomers booked to use this facility, so this is already making waves in the international astronomy world.”