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

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
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

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

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.