Radio telescopes are seen in Murchison, Western Australia
Radio telescopes are seen in Murchison, Western Australia, in this undated handout image. (CSIRO/Handout via Reuters)

SYDNEY - A powerful new telescope in Australia has mapped vast areas of the universe in record time. The Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder was able to chart about 3 million galaxies in just 300 hours – 1 million of which have never been seen before.

Galaxies are the building blocks of the universe. From a remote corner in the Western Australian outback, a new telescope, which has turned radio signals in space into images, has examined the entire southern sky in sharper detail than has ever been done before.

The Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder, 800 kilometers north of Perth, is run by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, or CSIRO, Australia’s national science agency.

The telescope is not just one dish or antenna, but 36. They are three stories high and connected by fiber-optic cable, so they combine to work as one supertelescope.

The array is helping scientists study black holes, the nature of gravity and the origins of the first stars.

By cataloging millions of galaxies, scientists hope to unlock the secrets of how the universe has evolved.

“If we can look at the statistics of them, where they are on the sky, and how they interact with each other, then we learn about how galaxies like our own can form and how we came to be here on this Earth,” said Douglas Bock, he CSIRO’s director of astronomy and space science. “And if we look at a galaxy that is far away, perhaps 12 billion light years away, we are looking back in time. So, we are looking at the light from that galaxy that was emitted when it was only a few billion years after the beginning of our universe.”

Researchers say the array’s isolated location in Western Australia is ideal for this type of astronomy because it’s quiet and far away from Earth-based radio transmissions. Much work lies ahead. The CSIRO estimates the universe could contain as many as 1 trillion galaxies.