Students gather for Einstein's waves

31 July 2015

Thirty university students, including Charlotte Ward from the University of Sydney, visited the Parkes radio telescope from 19-24 July to learn about one of the hottest topics in astronomy - the hunt for gravitational waves.

An undergraduate at the University of Sydney, she worked with CSIRO astronomers last summer on data from Parkes and has also taken undergraduate projects at the Sydney Institute for Astronomy under the supervision of Dr Tara Murphy.

Charlotte Ward at the Parkes Radio Telescope. Credit: John Sarkissian
Charlotte Ward at the Parkes Radio Telescope. Credit: John Sarkissian

"It's great to be back now that I know a lot more about astronomy," she said.

"It's a fantastic opportunity to learn more about the telescope."

The students will be hearing from some of the 75 gravitational-wave experts from eight countries that are meeting in Australia over the next two weeks. These experts have come to discuss how radio telescopes such as Parkes can help find gravitational waves - ripples in spacetime predicted by Einstein.

Astronomers use the Parkes telescope to precisely time radio pulses from the small spinning stars called pulsars. As gravitational waves roll through they should slightly alter when the pulsar signals reach Earth.

"Einstein developed his theory of gravity 100 years ago this year," CSIRO's Dr Matthew Kerr, one of the meeting's organisers said.

"The gravitational waves the theory predicts are very weak but will carry a wealth of information about black holes and how galaxies grow."

"We're still looking for them."