If a tree falls in the forest and no-one is around does it make a sound? What if a tree exists and falls on another planet – does it make a sound? Well if anything was ever able to hear you scream in space, it would be the CSIRO’s latest toy.

The CSIRO’s Parkes telescope has recently received quite a sizeable upgrade with the installation of a new receiver which will let astronomers ‘hear’ a wider range of radio waves from objects in space, opening the way to new discoveries in the world of science.

The $2.5 million instrument was developed by CSIRO and a consortium of Australian universities led by Swinburne University of Technology, with associated funding from the Australian Research Council, Germany’s Max Planck Institute for Radioastronomy and the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

The technology essentially acts as a ‘bionic ear’ for the cosmos which catches radio waves and turns them into electrical signals for astronomers to analyse and collect information from.

The new receiver paves the way for further research into groundbreaking areas of astronomical science like searching for gravitational waves from black holes in the early Universe, studying the insides of neutron stars, and mapping the many magnetic fields that run through our Galaxy.

“Stars and galaxies ‘sing’ with different voices, some high, some low,” CSIRO astronomer Dr George Hobbs said. “Until now we’ve had receivers that heard just one part of the choir at a time, this new one lets us listen to the whole choir at once.”

This comes as another addition to the Parkes telescope which has for decades been a world leading radio telescope. The telescope is now 10,000 times more sensitive than when it was built in 1961 and has found most of the known pulsars and most of the ‘fast radio bursts’ that still puzzle astronomers around the world.

“While some of us are timing a pulsar, other astronomers could be looking for the signs of newborn stars,” Dr Hobbs said. “The expertise built up in these technologies will enable Australia to compete effectively into the era of the Square Kilometre Array, the world’s largest radio telescope.”

Great to see the CSIRO leading the charge in the world of astronomical exploration.