2024 RTP round - Novel transient radio sources in MWA surveys
Applications open: 7/07/2023
Applications close: 25/08/2023
About this scholarship
The Murchison Widefield Array (MWA) is a low frequency (80 — 300 MHz) radio telescope operating in Western Australia and the only SKA Low precursor telescope. The MWA has collected more than 20PB of data spanning nearly a decade of operations. As part of undergraduate projects in 2020 and 2022, we have detected two examples of a new type of radio source, which we have localised to our own Milky Way, and repeat on the very unusual cadence of once every twenty minutes. These objects may be an unusual type of neutron star, or possibly highly magnetic white dwarfs: either way, the discoveries were unexpected, and show the power of searching these data. Both have been published in Nature as their properties defy our existing understanding of radio emission in stellar remnants.
Now that we know such sources exist, it is imperative to find more of them in order to study their nature and their astrophysics. Fortunately, there are thousands of hours of MWA data, representing large volumes of the Galaxy, which have not yet been searched, as well as new monitoring campaigns being conducted with the upgraded instrument. The supervisors also have access to the Variables And Slow Transient (VAST) survey data taken with the Australian Square Kilometer Array Pathfinder, a radio telescope operating at 700 to 1000 MHz, which offers a complementary view. Both these datasets are expected to contain many more examples of this new type of source. The project uses existing pipelines to search data for these transients, with a particular focus on data covering our own Galaxy, where we expect more periodic radio transients to reside. Additionally, we are obtaining more data on these sources, including from the southern hemisphere's most powerful radio telescope, MeerKAT. This rich data allows detailed magnetospheric modelling and an investigation into the emission mechanism producing the radio waves.
The aims of the project are:
Understand the population attributes of the sources (where are they in our Galaxy, how often do they produce radio emission, how long do they live for)
Uncover their physical nature of such sources (are they neutron stars, white dwarfs, or something never seen before, such as quark stars)
Understand how they produce radio waves (the mechanism is currently not understood)
Do they connect to other astrophysical phenomena? For instance: do they produce Fast Radio Bursts?
To achieve these aims we must complete several objectives:
Find more sources:
- Thoroughly search the archives of the MWA using existing detection algorithms and pipelines.
- Search the new VAST data (observations running 2023 to 2025).
- Contribute to the next epoch of the live Galactic Plane Monitoring with the MWA (mid-2024).
Examine the population:
- study the spatial distribution and duty cycles of the objects.
- compare with theoretical predictions.
- thereby derive the true underlying population
Detailed studies of single sources:
- Perform rapid follow-up in X-ray, optical, and with high-time resolution radio observations.
- Model the magnetic fields and emission mechanisms that could produce such unusual radio emission.
- Use archival data from other instruments (e.g., the Very Large Array) to thereby derive the timing of the sources in the long term, constraining their physical behaviour.
This project is an international hot topic, with excitement in the astronomical community on par with the discovery of Fast Radio Bursts. Both discovery papers (led by NHW, with SM as a co-author) have been published in Nature; we continue to make new discoveries in the data that will also be welcome in high-impact journals. The MWA (and therefore Curtin) currently has a "first-movers" advantage in this space, but as other well-resourced institutes begin to shift gears and spend resources on this area, we must either invest or fall behind. The VAST data is currently an untapped resource that we predict should contain an order of magnitude more sources than detected with the MWA. We have the expertise and the ability to supervise a strong student to make an excellent contribution to this exciting new field.
This project may provide an internship opportunity. This internship gives the student an opportunity to work with Australia’s national science agency and network with professionals across a range of technical and scientific disciplines.
- Future Students
Faculty of Science & Engineering
- Science courses
- Engineering courses
- Higher Degree by Research
- Australian Citizen
- Australian Permanent Resident
- New Zealand Citizen
- Permanent Humanitarian Visa
- Merit Based
The annual scholarship package (stipend and tuition fees) is approx. $60,000 - $70,000 p.a.
Successful HDR applicants for admission will receive a 100% fee offset for up to 4 years, stipend scholarships at the 2023 RTP rate valued at $32,250 p.a. for up to a maximum of 3 years, with a possible 6-month completion scholarship. Applicants are determined via a competitive selection process and will be notified of the scholarship outcome in November 2023.
For detailed information, visit: Research Training Program (RTP) Scholarships | Curtin University, Perth, Australia.
All applicable HDR courses
The position involves processing a large quantity of data on supercomputers and analysing the results, so an analytical and organised mindset is essential. Programming experience, especially in python, is strongly desirable. The student should have a very good grounding in astronomy, an interest in radio astrophysics, and willingness to learn interferometric techniques and pulsar astronomy. Experience in mathematics, statistics, and simulations is also useful.
This project has identified a preferred candidate and is no longer available. Please review remaining scholarships projects.
Eligible to enrol in a Higher Degree by Research Course at Curtin University by March 2024.
Recipients must complete their milestone 1 within 6 month of enrolment and remain enrolled on a full-time basis for the duration of the scholarship.
The Project lead has identified a preferred candidate and is no longer accepting applications. Please click here to review remaining scholarships projects.