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Significant new opportunities for astrophysics and cosmology have been identified at low radio frequencies. The Murchison Widefield Array is the first telescope in the southern hemisphere designed specifically to explore the low-frequency astronomical sky between 80 and 300 MHz with arcminute angular resolution and high survey efficiency. The telescope will enable new advances along four key science themes, including searching for redshifted 21-cm emission from the EoR in the early Universe; Galactic and extragalactic all-sky southern hemisphere surveys; time-domain astrophysics; and solar, heliospheric, and ionospheric science and space weather. The Murchison Widefield Array is located in Western Australia at the site of the planned Square Kilometre Array (SKA) low-band telescope and is the only low-frequency SKA precursor facility. In this paper, we review the performance properties of the Murchison Widefield Array and describe its primary scientific objectives.
We present a measurement of the HI column density distribution function f(Nhi) at the present epoch for column densities > 1020 cm−2. These high column densities compare to those measured in damped Lyα lines seen in absorption against background quasars. Although observationally rare, it appears that the bulk of the neutral gas in the Universe is associated with these damped Lyα systems. In order to obtain a good anchor point at z = 0 we determine f(Nhi) in the local Universe by using 21 cm synthesis observations of a complete sample of spiral galaxies. We show that f(Nhi) for damped Lyα systems has changed significantly from high z to the present and that change is greatest for the highest column densities. The measurements indicate that low surface brightness galaxies make a minor contribution to the cross section for HI, especially for NHI > 1021 cm−2.
Digital signal processing is one of many valuable tools for suppressing unwanted signals or inter-ference. Building hardware processing engines seems to be the way to best implement some classes of interference suppression but is, unfortunately, expensive and time-consuming, especially if several miti-gation techniques need to be compared. Simulations can be useful, but are not a substitute for real data. CSIRO’s Australia Telescope National Facility has recently commenced a ‘software radio telescope’ project designed to fill the gap between dedicated hardware processors and pure simulation. In this approach, real telescope data are recorded coherently, then processed offline. This paper summarises the current contents of a freely available database of base band recorded data that can be used to experiment with signal processing solutions. It includes data from the following systems: single dish, multi-feed receiver; single dish with reference antenna; and an array of six 22 m antennas with and without a reference antenna. Astronomical sources such as OH masers, pulsars and continuum sources subject to interfering signals were recorded. The interfering signals include signals from the US Global Positioning System (GPS) and its Russian equivalent (GLONASS), television, microwave links, a low-Earth-orbit satellite, various other transmitters, and signals leaking from local telescope systems with fast clocks. The data are available on compact disk, allowing use in general purpose computers or as input to laboratory hardware prototypes.
We use observations from the Giant Metrewave Radio Telescope (GMRT) to measure the atomic hydrogen gas content of star-forming galaxies at z = 0.24 (i.e. a look-backtime of ~3 Gyr). To measure the HI 21 cm emission signal we stack the signal from 121 galaxies with known optical positions and redshifts. We find an average HI mass for the galaxies of (2.26 ± 0.90) × 109 M⊙. We translate this HI measurement into a cosmic density of neutral gas at z=0.24 of Ωgas = (0.91 ± 0.42) × 10−3. This value is consistent with that estimated from damped Lyα systems around this redshift.
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