Astrophiz 70: Dr Jamie Stevens ~ Senior Systems Scientist at the ATCA


This is the third of 6 ‘Astrotour’ episodes of Astrophiz, where we are publishing recordings of interviews I did on a two and a half thousand kilometre tour of five of Australia’s finest Eastern state radio and optical observatories.

Today’s feature interview is with Dr Jamie Stevens, CSIRO’s Senior Systems Scientist for the Australian Telescope Compact Array, a unique mobile array of 6 x 22 metre dishes. Jamie tells us all about this beautiful facility, it’s technology and how it creates rich data sets for a huge number of researchers and gives us an idea of some of the current ATCA projects.

In our regular segment for astrophotographers and observers, Dr Ian ‘Astroblog’ Musgrave presents ‘What’s Up Doc?’. In this episode he tells us about the planets and comets currently visible to the naked eye and in his tangent he reveals a comet is approaching the Parker Solar Probe.


.1. via Nick Kachel on the CSIRO Blog:

The Small Magellanic Cloud (SMC) is slowly dying.

The SMC (named after famous Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan) is about 200,000 light years away, and is one of the furthest objects viewable in our skies with the naked eye. 

A quick tangent here, if you live in the Southern hemisphere, you can see the Small Magellanic Cloud easily. Step outside between 9 and 10pm, face south and look up high (about 50 degrees above the horizon, or two extended handspans from thumb to little finger) You’ll spot the Large Magellanic Cloud easily, but if you are in a light-polluted urban neighbourhood, you should be able to find the Large Magellanic cloud first, then squint and look a little higher and to the right to find the SMC.  

Now, back to the CSIRO blog:

Australian National University (ANU) and a CSIRO team have used their powerful Australian SKA Pathfinder (ASKAP) radio telescope array to capture images of the dwarf galaxy, observing a powerful outflowing of hydrogen gas from it.

Hydrogen is the most abundant element in the Universe, and is the main ingredient of stars. But for every Sun sized star that the SMC makes, it loses up to 10 times that amount of this star-forming gas due to its (comparatively) weaker gravitational fields. If the SMC loses all its hydrogen it will eventually lose its ability to create new stars, slowly but surely fading into oblivion.

And it’s not all doom and gloom. This observation has helped confirm simulations developed by theorists on how small galaxies like the SMC might evolve.

Lead researcher Professor Naomi McClure-Griffiths from ANU said the discovery, which is part of a project that investigates the evolution of galaxies, provided the first clear observational measurement of the amount of mass lost from a dwarf galaxy.

“The result is also important because it provides a possible source of gas for the enormous Magellanic Stream that encircles the Milky Way,” she said.

CSIRO co-researcher Dr David McConnell said ASKAP was unrivalled in the world for this kind of research due to its unique radio receivers that give it a panoramic view of the sky.

“The telescope covered the entire SMC galaxy in a single shot and photographed its hydrogen gas with unprecedented detail,” he said.

Astronomers expect the SMC will ultimately be gobbled up by our own Milky Way. Thankfully,  the process will take billions of years.

For those who can get past the Nature Astronomy paywall, the original journal article is at

.2. Via The Chinese Academy of Sciences Newsroom

China’s ‘Artificial Sun’ Achieves Major Breakthrough

China’s “artificial sun” has for the first time achieved a plasma central electron temperature of 100 million C, marking a key step in China’s future fusion reactor experiment, according to the Hefei Institute of Physical Science under Chinese Academy of Sciences.

The Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak (EAST) in Hefei, East China’s Anhui province, has been dubbed as artificial sun since it replicates the energy-generating process of the sun.

In stable fusion, a temperature of 100 million C is one of the most fundamental elements, because fusion is possible only if the central temperature reaches 100 million C.

The experimental data obtained establishes an important foundation for the development of clean fusion energy.

Nuclear fusion needs very high temperature and great pressure, and since the latter can’t be achieved on earth, people can only raise the temperature, which, according to current theory, must reach at least 100 million C.

Therefore, the Chinese artificial sun’s successful achievement of 100 million C can be said to reach the ignition condition of nuclear fusion.

Nuclear fusion is arguably the best way for human beings to get energy. In terms of raw materials, deuterium and tritium required for nuclear fusion are almost inexhaustible in the ocean. Besides, nuclear fusion does not produce any radioactive waste, so it is extremely environmentally friendly.

China independently designed and constructed the EAST in 2006. The facility is 11 meters tall, with a diameter of 8 meters, and a weight of 400 tons. 

.3. Finally, with Opportunity not phoning home from Mars, I’ve just booked another interview for early next year with Richard Stephenson who leads the control room at Australia’s DSN station at Tidbinbilla. 

NASA has three DSN stations, one at Tidbinbilla in Australia managed by the CSIRO, one at Madrid and one in California, sited about 120 degrees apart so NASA can schedule contact with missions throughout the day and night as the earth rotates.

 For new listeners didn’t hear our first interview about operations at the Deep Space network with Richard, go to all lower case, all one word, it’s a fabulous episode called ‘Talking to Spacecraft’


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