13/09/2015 5:18 PM AEST | Updated 15/07/2016 12:51 PM AEST

Astronomers Use Kickstarter to Save Mopra Telescope Mapping Milky Way


Heard of Coonabarabran?

The sleepy rural town of about 3,000 sits 450 kilometres from its nearest capital city in central-west NSW.

Though it’s only tiny, the town plays an important role in something enormous - mapping the galaxy as we know it.

Near Coonabarabran sits the Mopra Radio Telescope, a 22 metre dish opened in 1998. For the past four years, it’s slowly been recording radio emissions that come from space in "a voyage of interstellar exploration charting the least known part of our Galaxy" - our Milky Way.

Mopra needs funds to complete its map (Santiphotois/Getty Images)

But not for much longer - unless scientists can save it.

“Due to drastic budget cuts the telescope will be shut down at the end of September, leaving our map unfinished and our knowledge incomplete,” say the team behind a new crowdfunding campaign to save the telescope’s operation on their Kickstarter page.

They've started a Kickstarter to raise funds so the telescope can keep operating and mapping the Milky Way, the galaxy that contains our very own solar system.

“It would be a tragedy for science if this [shut down] 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,” the campaign’s website says.

CSIRO announced it would stop funding the telescope after the 2014 federal budget slashed $110 million dollars of funding from the science organisation.

The team trying to save the dish, which includes UNSW astronomers Michael Burton and Catherine Braiding, say the telescope is unique - the only one in the world capable of getting this view of our Milky Way.

To date, the campaign has raised about $27,000, with a goal of $65,000. The Mopra team need another three years of surveying for the map of the Milky Way to be complete, and say that though $65,000 won’t get them all of the way, it sends a message to government agencies about the value placed on science in the community.

CSIRO spokesman Huw Morgan told the Huffington Post Australia that funds were shifted away from Mopra as priorities developed within the organisation.

“CSIRO’s priorities to meet Australia’s objectives in radio astronomy are the delivery and operation of the new Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder (ASKAP) telescope in Western Australia, and the Square Kilometre Array (SKA),” Morgan said.

“In recognition of these priorities, over the past decade CSIRO has been directing resources from existing telescopes, including Mopra, to ASKAP and SKA activities. The astronomy community is fully aware of this process.”