June 30, 2015 Fuller

Swinburne University of Technology and its partners have launched a free online astronomy tool to allow scientists to build complex customised views of the Universe, all from the comfort of their own computer.

The Theoretical Astrophysical Observatory (TAO), a component of the Nectar funded All Sky Virtual Observatory project, draws on the power of Swinburne’s gSTAR GPU supercomputer to allow astronomers to simulate the Universe and see how it would look through a wide range of telescopes.

TAO project scientist, Swinburne Associate Professor Darren Croton, said: “TAO makes it easy and efficient for any astronomer to create these virtual universes. It’s the culmination of years of effort that is now at the fingertips of scientists around the world. TAO lets researchers take the data from massive cosmological simulations and map it onto an observer’s viewpoint, to test theories of how galaxies and stars form and evolve.

“Using TAO it might take a few minutes to create a mock catalogue of galaxies, versus months or even years of development previously.”

Swinburne worked with eResearch agency Intersect, who designed the web interface with simplicity and user-friendliness in mind.

Associate Professor Croton said that it was important to create a service that could be used by any astronomer regardless of their area of expertise, “because that accelerates the pace of science and boosts the chance of breakthroughs”.

As new survey telescopes and instruments become available, they can be modelled within TAO to maintain an up-to-date set of observatories.

Combining theory and observation

Professor Croton said that “TAO could be especially useful for comparing theoretical predictions against observations coming from next-generation survey telescopes, like the Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder (ASKAP) in Western Australia, and the SkyMapper Telescope run by the Australian National University (ANU).”

“These will cover large chunks of the sky and peer back into the early stages of the Universe and are tasked with answering some of the most fundamental questions know to humankind.”

TAO is the theory node of the All Sky Virtual Observatory (ASVO). Observational data will also be accessible in ASVO via the SkyMapper ASVO node, which includes a data environment for hosting, analysis, and exploration of the most detailed and sensitive digital map of the southern sky from the SkyMapper telescope.

The All-Sky Virtual Observatory is a partnership between Astronomy Australia Ltd, Swinburne University of Technology, The Australian National University, the National Computational Infrastructure, and Intersect Australia Ltd. ASVO is supported by the Australian Government through the Education Investment Fund, the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy (NCRIS), and the National eResearch Collaboration Tools and Resources (Nectar) Project.

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