About this project
Thank you to all of the backers that have seen us to our goal! We appreciate every one of you so much, and we can't wait to start preparing and sending out your rewards for helping us.
Now comes the part where we start planning further observations; as more people pledge to our project and join the team, it will mean we get more time on telescope to expand the survey. Once we finish off mapping the central degree of the fourth quadrant (those red blocks above that have already been funded!), we can start observing the next half degree above and below the plane (the light blue stripes), where there are still many more clouds to map and more to discover!
As we said, all of the money that comes into this project will go towards rewarding our backers and running Mopra next year to finish the survey, and stretch goals will allow us to expand the survey, and maybe even allocate telescope time to other projects as well, so let's keep pushing and try to break some records crowdfunding Science!
Ultimately, it will take at least $150,000 to run the telescope for one year, given that this is what we are asking the Australian Research Council to fund us to (and assuming that our university partners will back their portion of the project), but it will take a lot of smaller steps to get us there. Which brings us to our first stretch goal:
1,000 Backers! - Stick With Us!
All of our backers will receive two neat high-resolution digital wallpapers of Mopra, and all backers at the $20 Tell Your Friends level and above will also receive an exclusive #TeamMopra sticker for their laptop (or car, or window).
$85,000 - The Writing on the Wall!
We will put up a plaque on the wall of the control building, thanking you guys for saving the telescope (as a group. I can't imagine fitting 1,000 names on something that would fit our budget). We'll invite you all to the unveiling, and send photos for those who cannot make it.
(How does the Queen's Birthday long weekend - 11-13 June sound?)
$100,352 - Double Trouble!
Let's face it, the cost of doing rewards for 1,000 backers doesn't increase a whole lot when you suddenly find yourself in the company of 1,500 backers. So hitting $100,000 means we'll be able to afford two months of observing, allowing us to finish the original survey and another ten square degrees of interesting clouds, probably nearer the galactic centre.
This is fabulous news, and in return, we're going to host two open days next year, firstly the special backer party on the Queen's Birthday Saturday (11 June), and then returning to Starfest on the first weekend in October. At both events we'll do telescope tours (with a few more hardhats this time), and we'll put on some talks as well to tell you all about Mopra's science. These will be streamed live for those who can't make it on the day.
If we reach this goal, we're going to put together a 12 page book about Mopra and the survey, which will be sent out as an ebook to all of our backers and a physical reward for everyone who has pledged $40 or more.
About the Project
We have spent the last four years mapping the Southern portion of our Milky Way Galaxy with the Mopra Radio Telescope in Australia. However, due to drastic budget cuts the telescope will be shut down at the end of September, leaving our map unfinished and our knowledge incomplete. Help us finish the survey and make it public, so that we can put the Milky Way on the map.
We are four years into a voyage of interstellar exploration charting the least known part of our Galaxy – its Fourth Quadrant, sometimes known as the Delta Quadrant – the Southern Milky Way. This journey uses the Mopra Telescope to search for giant clouds of molecular gas: the interstellar clouds that are nurseries to baby stars. These clouds are at the heart of a galactic ecosystem which encompasses the birth and death of stars; the recycling of matter between the stars and the gas of interstellar space.
Along the plane of our Galaxy this gas forms into giant clouds of molecules, some weighing up to a million times the mass of our Sun. In total, there are around one billion Solar masses of material found in the interstellar molecular clouds of our Galaxy. What happens inside these clouds is pivotal to determining the Galaxy’s future form. It is the subject of much fundamental scientific research.
The Mopra Telescope
Mopra is a radio telescope in Australia, located in the Warrumbungle Mountains of the State of New South Wales. Mopra is a special kind of radio telescope able to record the high frequency radio emission that comes from molecules in space. Mopra is the only telescope capable of obtaining this new view of the Galaxy. Its large size, being 22 metres in diameter, and specialist suite of instrumentation means that it can rapidly chart large areas of the sky, recording the emission from many molecules all at the same time.
The New Map of the Galaxy
Our new map of the Galaxy is being drawn with superb fidelity, improving on the clarity of vision of the previous best view of the gas clouds of the southern sky by a factor of ten. This is in both the resolution of the images we obtain (each pixel is 0.5 arc minutes, 1/60th the size of the Moon on the sky), and in the precision with which we can measure the motions of the gas (0.1 km/s per channel, which shows us how the gas is moving relative to us). With Mopra, astronomers have been peering into the environment in which star formation occurs in our Galaxy, yielding new insights into its evolution and the sequence of stages that stars go through as they are born.
The Voyage of Discovery Cut Short
Our voyage of exploration may have to end early, however, with large swathes of the Galaxy left unexplored. We seek your help to prevent the premature end of this journey. The Mopra telescope faces closure at the end of this year. Cuts to the budget of its operators – the Australia Telescope National Facility – mean that it will no longer be possible to continue running the Mopra telescope next year unless further funds are found.
Yet Mopra is a telescope at the top of its game. Its productivity has never been greater. The number of papers written about the data it gathers continues to grow, as does their impact on the scientific endeavour. In particular, the Mopra Southern Galactic Plane CO Survey will be left uncompleted, leaving us with poorly charted sectors of the Galaxy that we know little about. It would be a tragedy for science if this were to occur, when finishing the survey lies so readily within our grasp. It would be akin to the British mapping of Australia ending after Captain Cook finished charting its East coast in 1770, on his first grand voyage of exploration of the globe that began with the observation of the Transit of Venus across the Sun from Tahiti.
Finishing the Map of the Galaxy
The whole Mopra survey of the Galaxy will take three more seasons to complete. We run the telescope over the winter months when the conditions are best for measurements of the molecular emission. All observations are done completely remotely over the internet, from our laptops at home, in our offices or indeed wherever in the world we might happen to be. We are a team – #TeamMopra – taking shifts on the telescope, and handing over seamlessly from one team member to the next, often while separated by continents. The data is then made publicly available for all to use. The only visitors to the telescope are the engineers for monthly maintenance inspections. This means the telescope is run as efficiently as possible. It serves as an exemplar of how to do big science for minimal resources, at the same time training a generation of students in the skills and methodologies of science.
But we do need more funds to keep the telescope going next year, otherwise it will be closed and dismantled, never to rise again. We seek your help to do so, we need your support. Join with #TeamMopra and help us complete the new map of the Galaxy.
$65,000 sounds very cheap for three years of astronomy…?
It does, doesn't it? Once you take out 10% for the kickstarter and credit card fees, and another 10% for fulfilling the rewards, we're actually only requesting enough funding to buy one month of observing time, enough to finish the original 90x1° of the survey.
However, the Galaxy is three dimensional, and we would achieve a lot more with a thicker panorama, which would show how the numbers of molecular clouds drop off as one observes further from the central plane. That's where the three years come in: It will take another three years of full time observing to complete our dream goal of a 90x2° map. We've asked for traditional funding to achieve this goal, and we do need traditional funding to operate the telescope next year, but it is harder than ever to wrangle funding out of government agencies with increasingly small budgets. We're now asking for your help to save the telescope, to make a statement that can be heard loud and clear that science is valuable and fundamental research is worth supporting.
What do I even get out of this?
Aside from an answer to the age-old question: "Where the heck are we?"?
Have you seen our list of rewards? You could buy for yourself or your loved ones a piece of space (a unique interstellar cloud of your own in the catalogue that will be published on our website*)! Or you could sign up for a most special thank you card signed by a stressed out astronomer, who has been observing and managing a kickstarter campaign at the same time!
And as a thank you to all of our backers we are arranging advance access to our maps! Our backers will get access to the data as we get it from Mopra, ahead of the scientists who have to wait until we publish it, and we're already drafting tutorials for our website that will show you how we use it professionally. You could make your own catalogue of clouds in the sky and share them with your friends. You could make new discoveries and maybe change the course of science!
*Catalogue not officially recognised by any major astronomical body. Interstellar Cloud purchases are for fun only; remember that these are radio clouds and you will not be able to spot them at your local observatory which, most-likely, only has optical telescopes.
If you have a particular idea for a reward that you'd like to see put into the gift box or included at a lower level do let us know. Especially with regards to the data products, but also with the physical rewards.
What have you got for the Astronomers?
Mopra has been used by many different groups over the years, and we'd like to acknowledge and thank them for their work. But we haven't been able to come up with a particular reward for any astronomer backers - perhaps a personalised TOAD screen on a postcard, or some other reminder of your time using the telescope. We'd love to hear your stories, and to share them on our blog, so please do get in touch, and tell us how we can thank you for all you have done.
As Featured In…
(and a follow-up article!)
Risks and challenges
Our biggest and most frightening risk with promising that we will publish 90 degrees of data is that we may achieve our kickstarter goal, but not get the additional external funding we need to run the telescope next year. Our kickstarter is geared at turning the current Mopra data into something non-astronomers can use and appreciate, and if we achieve our funding goal that will certainly happen, but unless we reach stretch goals (!!!) or get the grants we have applied for we will not be able to observe next year at all. The 60° we have observed are almost ready, and we will make them public (10° has already been published), we just won't be able to make it to 90°.
Our second biggest challenge will be if we have another El Niño year as in 2015, with a high rate of poor weather over Mopra. This will see us struggle to complete the remaining 10 degrees of the survey in the month of observing funded by this kickstarter (assuming we only just make our goal).
There's not a lot we can do about that. We've had several years now to optimise our observing schedule and we're good at it, and we will organise a wet and cloudy weather program to ensure that we get our money's worth. We may have to borrow lower-resolution data from other surveys to complete our sky coverage.
There may be delays in acquiring and distributing the physical rewards to backers. We're scientists, not marketing experts, but we believe we have made reasonable estimates of the time it will take to get the rewards out there (anything with a December date will be out by Christmas). The Mopra experiences (virtual visits) will require details of our observing periods and availability of the backers that we just don't know at this point (and may need restructuring if we aren't able to operate the telescope next year), but we promise to be upfront about any challenges we encounter.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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