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The TAIPAN instrument with its 150 Starbugs inside the UK Schmidt Telescope at Siding Springs Observatory. Photo: David Brown, AAO (from UNSW press release)

The TAIPAN instrument with its 150 Starbugs inside the UK Schmidt Telescope at Siding Springs Observatory. Photo: David Brown, AAO (from UNSW press release)

UNSW scientists to co-lead fastest ever survey of stars in our galaxy using mini-robots

Scientists from the University of New South Wales (UNSW) are going to co-lead the fastest ever survey of stars in our galaxy. They will be using a new Australian instrument that can observe more than a million stars a year.

Assistant Minister for Science, Jobs and Innovation, Zed Seselja, launched the $7 million TAIPAN instrument, which contains 150 mini-robots called Starbugs that rapidly and accurately align the optical fibres of a telescope to target stars and galaxies.

All 150 Starbugs can independently move to new targets, saving enormous amounts of time. This means that the astronomers can reposition and observe another 150 stars roughly every six minutes, adding up to 15,000 stars a night, or more than a million stars a year, making it the fastest survey of the stars in our galaxy ever obtained.

‍Some of the 150 Starbugs inside the TAIPAN instrument attached to the UK Schmidt Telescope at Siding Springs Observatory. Photo: David Brown, AAO

TAIPAN has been designed by the Australian Astronomical Observatory (AAO) and installed on the UK Schmidt Telescope at Siding Springs Observatory near Coonabarabran in NSW. It will allow astronomers to make new discoveries about dark energy, dark matter, and galaxy and star formation and evolution.

Two astronomical surveys will be conducted using TAIPAN. The first is the FunnelWeb stellar survey of more than 3 million stars, co-led by UNSW and the Australian National University (ANU). From the observations, the team plans to create a detailed spectrographic database for millions of stars in the Southern Hemisphere.

The second is the Taipan galaxy survey of two million galaxies, co-led by ANU and the AAO. The Taipan galaxy survey will be the most comprehensive spectroscopic survey of the Southern Hemisphere ever undertaken and will, for the first time, measure the current expansion rate of the universe to 1% accuracy.

Professor Tinney, head of Exoplanetary Science at UNSW, said, “This will allow us to search for new planetary systems. We will be able to identify the youngest stars – the stellar nurseries where young planets have recently been born. And it will provide us with an unprecedented map of the structure, history and future of our home – the Milky Way – all thanks to Australian innovation and vision.”

 “The Taipan galaxy survey will determine both the age and size of the Universe with extraordinary precision,” said Taipan galaxy survey co-leader, ANU Professor Matthew Colless.

Senator Seselja commented, “TAIPAN is a fantastic example of our world-renowned capability in building and using specialised fibre-optic spectroscopic technologies. I’ve seen the StarBugs technology first hand at the AAO in North Ryde and now on the telescope itself. It’s an extraordinary innovation with tremendous opportunities for researchers and discovery here and overseas,” he said.

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