AAO Macquarie

AAO Macquarie

AAO Macquarie

AAO Macquarie is a world leader in the development of innovative telescope instrumentation for astronomical surveys of the night skies.

Formally opened in 1974, the AAO was originally a bi-national facility of Australia and the UK. From 2010 to 2018 it was fully funded by the Australian Government.  It has recently transitioned from Australia’s national optical observatory into two separate entities: Telescope Operations at Siding Spring - now with the ANU; North Ryde Operations (Instrumentation, Astronomy Research, Astronomy Data Management) – now AAO Macquarie. The AAO instrumentation capability brings to Macquarie a world-wide reputation in telescope instrumentation.  Over its 45 year history as an observatory it has developed instruments for use with the Anglo-Australian Telescope at Siding Spring, Coonabarabran, and for telescopes around the world.  The early use of optical fibres set the organisation apart in the early 1980s when multi-fibre spectroscopy was transformed from an interesting novelty into a highly productive technique.  Once the potential of this technique was demonstrated, the AAO built the 2-degree Field, a fibre positioner allowing the capture of 400 spectra at once.  In the late 1990s this was an unprecedented development and the scientific surveys that followed provided the worldwide astronomical community with some of its richest data.

Since then AAO has built a number of spectrographs; AAOmega in 2006 is still one of the world’s most powerful spectroscopic survey instruments; HERMES in 2014 designed for galactic archaeology; SAMI, a spectrograph used to conduct the first major integral field unit survey of nearby galaxies.

AAT instruments currently in development include HECTOR (a considerably more powerful version of SAMI) and Veloce, a stabilised high-resolution echelle spectrograph with precision wavelength calibration for stellar spectroscopy.

Macquarie University brings to the AAO its well demonstrated track record in working with and hosting industry partners on its campus that includes a commercialisation focus. AAO-Macquarie’s team of experts will build on the University’s existing strengths in astronomy, photonics, laser technology, microfabrication, applied optics, sensing and communications.  We seek to increase industry engagement, identify opportunities to apply AAO – Macquarie’s expertise to medicine and defence, and expand its presence in the fields of optics and sensing, in addition to growing the ongoing core mission of world-leading excellence in astronomical instrumentation.

Macquarie is also excited to take a significant role in growing Australia’s global position in astronomical instrumentation, partnering with the Australian National University, the University of Sydney and Astronomy Australia Ltd, to establish a new national capability for astronomical instrumentation under the banner Australian Astronomical Optics (AAO).  This collaboration will combine unique capabilities in wide-field and adaptive optics, precision mechanical and optical engineering, design and test,, and software to build cutting-edge instruments for the world’s leading eight-metre telescope and next generation 30-metre telescope.

Data Central

Data Central (datacentral.org.au) is an e-research platform and data archive currently being developed at AAO Macquarie that facilitates cutting-edge science. It provides web-based tools and archive functionality for scientists from a range of disciplines to explore, collaborate and make new discoveries.

Astronomical survey datasets have traditionally suffered from three main problems: 1. they stand in isolation; 2. their storage is temporary; and 3. they do not comply with Virtual Observatory standards.  In combination, these issues restrict the academic potential and legacy value of some of our world-leading scientific endeavours. For example, some significant data sets (e.g. WiggleZ, AT20G) are not publicly available or easily accessible in any form, making cross-matching with newer datasets a difficult to impossible task, while other surveys such as GAMA have extensive databases with a diverse array of products, but stand in silos, largely isolated from other surveys. In addition, a lack of Virtual Observatory (VO) compliance means that many datasets cannot easily be accessed using common astronomy tools, such as TOPCAT or Aladin.

Data Central alleviates these problems by providing a stable, long-term storage solution and query tools for astronomical data from all AAT surveys of major national significance. Through Data Central, these surveys are now available to the astronomical community, maximising the scientific discovery potential. To facilitate this, Data Central serves an array of heterogenous data in an intuitive, accessible and feature-rich interface for a diverse user base (novice astronomers, expert survey-team members, and members of the public).

The Data Central eco-system can be broadly divided into two types of functionality: scientific research and survey support:

Scientific Research

Data Central provides a next-generation user-focused interface to explore astronomical data of national significance (e.g., SAMI (http://sami-survey.org/), GAMA (http://gama-survey.org), DEVILS (http://devilsurvey.org/), GALAH (http://galah-survey.org/), OzDES (http://mso.anu.edu.au/ozdes/), 2dFGRS, 6dFGS, with more due this year), providing interoperability between all ingested data sets to allow for intuitive data exploration.

An image cutout service allows astronomers to compare the same astronomical source at different wavelengths, side by side. Users are able to easily and intuitively access imaging data from some of the world's leading facilities alongside datasets from the AAT, to quickly explore sources of interest and produce publication-quality figures. The new Query service makes the hundreds of catalogues hosted at Data Central queryable via an intuitive web interface, while the new AAT Archive service provides online access to all historical data observed on the Anglo-Australian Telescope (archives for the TAIPAN instrument on UK Schmidt telescope and the Huntsman telescope are in-progress).

Data Central also forms the Anglo-Australian Telescope (AAT) Node of the All-Sky Virtual Observatory (ASVO), and is developing interoperable capabilities with the other ASVO nodes and compliancy with IVOA protocols.

Survey Support

Data Central provides a suite of tools aimed at facilitating the smooth and successful execution of large survey projects and management of the interactions between international teams of researchers.

Document Central is an in-house content management system allowing survey teams to create and curate the documentation that describes their data. This documentation can then be provided to the public alongside the available data products. Data Central Cloud provides teams with a private space (up to 1TB, higher upon request) to host their survey data, allowing for fast, secure file sharing with in-built data recovery. We are also currently developing Papers, a team-management app to facilitate the organisation of scientific paper writing within large survey teams.


AAO Macquarie designs and builds innovative instruments to extract information from light for Australian telescopes, keeping them at the forefront of research, and for telescopes around the world.  The AAO Macquarie’s key strengths lie in:

  • Photonics and other optical-fibre technologies that capture and filter light
  • Positioning systems that place optical fibres with maximum efficiency
  • Spectrographs that analyse captured light.
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