USQ Astrophysics

Overview

In coming years observational surveys of the planetary systems around stars other than the Sun should reveal many potentially habitable worlds. But which will be the most promising targets for more detailed studies? USQ is responding to this challenge by research into the shared evolution of stars and their planets, and addressing the implications for planetary habitability. This research involves collaborative projects with leading international institutions.

Mt Kent Observatory

USQ operates a modern research observatory at Mt Kent in southern Queensland. The site hosts remote-access telescopes for the Shared Skies Partnership with the University of Louisville, USA, and MINERVA-Australis, the only southern hemisphere observing facility dedicated to confirming and characterising the many planets NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) will discover.

Recent USQ astrophysics research developments

MINERVA-Australis: a dedicated exoplanet observing facility

NASA’s TESS mission will detect thousands of potential exoplanets, and ground-based follow-up is needed to confirm and understand these worlds. USQ has thus established  MINERVA-Australis  – the only southern hemisphere exoplanet observing facility dedicated to following up, confirming and characterising the planets that TESS discovers. In the coming years, this facility will allow USQ to play a leading role in the global effort to find planets around other stars, and so better understand our place in the universe.

SONG: characterising stellar interiors and exoplanets

USQ is now leading the establishment of an Australian node in the Stellar Observations Network Group (SONG) telescope network spanning the globe. SONG observations will complement those from MINERVA-Australis, and will deliver unprecedented details of the interior structures of stars, to advance understanding of stellar properties and evolution, how planets form, and the origins of the Milky Way.

The FunnelWeb Survey

USQ is helping to lead the FunnelWeb Survey, a major new survey of southern stars observed with the UK Schmidt telescope at Siding Spring Observatory. Spectra will be gathered for millions of southern hemisphere stars, and the results combined with observations from space telescope surveys (such as ESA’s GAIA mission and NASA’s TESS mission) to address far-reaching scientific problems at the forefront of modern astronomy. FunnelWeb will thus enhance knowledge of individual stars and their planetary systems, and the stellar populations studied to infer the assembly and subsequent evolution of the Milky Way.

Australian Desert Fireball Network

USQ is a key partner in the Australian Desert Fireball Network (DFN) deploying a network of automated cameras across Queensland to observe meteorites falling. Multiple cameras can enable the fall to be located quickly so a relatively pristine meteorite is recovered as a useful sample of ancient Solar system material.

Recent research highlights

Some recent key results from USQ research collaborations include:

Stellar astronomy projects

USQ research in stellar astronomy is contributing to improved understanding of stellar evolution, with a particular focus on the stellar magnetic fields, activity and space weather that can affect planetary evolution and habitability. USQ research uses ground- and space-based telescopes for stellar survey projects including:

  • BCool – Detection and mapping of the magnetic fields of cool stars
  • BinaMIcS  – Binarity and Magnetic Interaction in various classes of Stars
  • BRITEpol – BRIght Target Explorer polarisation survey of bright stars
  • FunnelWeb Survey – A major new spectroscopic survey of southern-sky stars
  • HATSouth  – Hungarian-made Automated Telescope Network-South transit survey
  • MaTYSSE – Magnetic Topologies of Young Stars & Survival of massive close-in Exoplanets
  • SONG – Stellar Observations Network Group asteroseismology and exoplanet studies
  • Spitzer – Light Curves of Young M Dwarfs Rotating Near Breakup
  • Starwinds – Stellar wind models based on stellar magnetic field observations
  • TESS – Follow-up Observing Program subgroups SG1 photometry, SG2 radial velocities
  • TOUPIES – Towards Understanding the sPIn Evolution of Stars

Planetary systems projects

Extra-solar planets (exoplanets) orbit stars other than the Sun. USQ is internationally recognised for its exoplanet discoveries, characterisations and dynamical modelling studies, with MINERVA-Australis a key new follow-up facility for NASA’s TESS exoplanet survey mission. Complementary USQ Solar system research includes dynamical modelling of small bodies and the implications for terrestrial habitability. USQ also supports a meteor camera network recovering fresh, relatively uncontaminated meteorite falls as records of early Solar system conditions. USQ planetary systems research projects include:

  • AAPS – Anglo-Australian Planet Search with Anglo-Australian Telescope at Siding Spring
  • AST3 – Antarctic Survey Telescopes used for wide-field exoplanet transit search studies
  • KELT-South – Kilodegree Extremely Little Telescope South exoplanet transit survey
  • Kepler – This space telescope’s data archive is analysed for stellar and exoplanet studies
  • DFN – Desert Fireball Network cameras used for locating recent meteorite falls
  • Veloce – A precision spectrograph for the Anglo-Australian Telescope
  • MINERVA-Australis – Mt Kent Observatory’s new facility for exoplanet studies

For more information visit the astrophysics research website at:
https://www.usq.edu.au/research/astrophysics

A short video presentation about our search for and characterisation of exoplanets is at:
https://www.usq.edu.au/research/astrophysics/new-planets.

USQ’s online Astronomical and Space Science studies (available worldwide)

USQ delivers astronomical and science science studies at all levels from Bachelor to Doctoral level, via external offers and through on-campus access to staff. The MSc (Astrophysics) has the broad entry requirement of a 3-year Bachelor degree or equivalent qualification from a recognised university, and the MSc (Applied Data Science) enables astrophysics to be studied as coursework and research. Doctoral study options comprise a Doctor of Applied Science with one-third coursework, or a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) program based on a major project.

For more information on USQ studies please visit:

Further information and contact details

Institutional information

The Astrophysics Group is a part of USQ’s Computational Engineering and Science Research Centre and our academic staff belong to USQ’s Faculty of Health, Engineering and Sciences.

Staff and student overview

Our expanding team includes teaching and research staff at the Toowoomba and Springfield campuses working with a global network of over 20 adjuncts to supervise over 20 PhD students. The latest available Australian Research Council Excellence in Research for Australia ranking has rated USQ “above world standard” in astronomical and space sciences.

Academic staff

Research staff