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Australia and India reaching for the stars together

What is out there? Are we alone? How did the universe begin? These are questions that have baffled humankind for millennia. Space may be the final frontier, but every day we get a little closer to solving its mysteries. We may not have the answers to the big questions just yet, but we're finding out a lot of other useful information–about the universe, our planet and ourselves–along the way.

India's rapid growth has had a positive impact on so many areas of innovation, and now it too is reaching for the stars–literally. In 2015, India launched the Astrosat: its first dedicated multi-wavelength space observatory. In simple terms, it is a satellite that monitors frequencies in space. The huge potential of the Astrosat has fostered collaboration across continents, with a joint research project being undertaken by the University of Western Australia (UWA), in Perth, and the Indian Institute of Astrophysics (IIA), in Bangalore.

The aim of the research is to figure out how stars and galaxies form, and to learn why some stars continue to form in distant parts of space, while elsewhere they dwindled billions of years ago. The project is supported by a grant from the Australia-India Council (AIC), and will form an important partnership between India and Australia in the field of space science. It combines Indian leadership in the development of ultraviolet space-telescopes with Australia's internationally recognised expertise in galaxy evolution studies.

We recently spoke to AIC grant recipient, Dr. Luca Cortese, a Senior Research Fellow at UWA who's central to the project. Though it's early days for the research, Luca's optimistic about not just the scientific discoveries he expects to make, but the longer-term partnerships between the two countries and where they will lead in the future. "We consider the AIC grant more as a seed fund to start getting people together and to gain momentum," he says. "The real success of the project will be if we can have a serious collaboration, and serious engagement, that lasts for the next decade."

The project is a large-scale collaboration that is allowing experts in the field to travel between India and Australia to share knowledge and coordinate their research. The visits are important because they allow scientists to meet in person, ensuring it's not just skills and data being shared, but cultural experiences and understanding. As with any long-term, multi-year research, strong relationships are critical to the success of the project. There is an added benefit as well–India has a growing number of students interested in astronomy, many of whom want to undertake a portion of their study in Australia. A successful collaboration between the two countries will go a long way to helping support the next generation of space scientists.

While the short-term aim of the project is to combine observations of galaxies from different Australian and Indian facilities to get the best possible picture of how stars and galaxies form, the long-term vision would see Australia become a significant partner supporting the Indian presence in space. So, says Luca, "you could call this the beginning of a long and prosperous collaboration with our friends in India."

The project is a win-win scenario–forming strong cross-cultural connections here on Earth, while solving the mysteries of the universe above.

Read the full interview with Luca from our 'Australia & India. A Dynamic Mix' series.

Learn more about the economic potential of the Australia-India partnership in An India Economic Strategy to 2035 – Navigating from potential to delivery

Read more dynamic stories that form an integral part of the Australia-India relationship

Last Updated: 2 April 2019
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