While most international borders are open again and governments are rolling back restrictions on their citizens, the imprint of the COVID-19 pandemic remained throughout 2021/22, lingering in tangible ways for Australian-based astronomers. A ‘new normal’ was established, changing the way many of us worked in a post-COVID-19 world. Less travel, remote observing, fully online workshops and conferences – with many still choosing to work primarily from home – these are some of the changes and challenges faced by the Australian astronomy community during 2021/22. The re-opening of university campuses, astronomy facilities and lifting of international travel restrictions did give the community some much needed breathing space. We remain mindful that university budgets are still suffering from the lingering effects of the pandemic and wish to thank our members again for their ongoing support.
Astronomy Australia Limited (AAL) also adjusted to a ‘new normal’ during 2021/22, with many members of staff still working from home for much of the week. Online committee meetings and member updates remained the best option for most of the year, and with travel still presenting certain challenges for international colleagues, most workshops organised by AAL remained completely online. AAL also restructured its priorities during 2021/22 to better support one of the major goals of the Australian-based astronomy community – becoming a full member of the European Southern Observatory (ESO). This shift in priorities culminated in the opening of an AAL office in Canberra and the creation of a new role – Chief Strategic Partnerships Officer – to actively pursue this result for the Australian community.
During 2021/22, AAL continued to secure modest additional funding in addition to its base grant. This included $1.4M from the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy (NCRIS), and $0.8M from the Australian Research Data Commons (ARDC), to support various computing projects.
At a project level, AAL has seen many success stories emerge from individual programs supported by funding from the NCRIS program (part of the Department of Education), and from the Department of Industry, Science and Resources (DISR). Many of these successes will be highlighted throughout this report, notably those related to the projects highlighted below. Click on an image to see the full story.
Other AAL-supported projects with successes this past year include the Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder (ASKAP). January 2022 was marked by the first data release of ASKAP SWAG-X, with multi-wavelength coverage of the GAMA-09 equatorial sky region. SWAG-X was initiated as a complementary ASKAP survey to the eROSITA X-ray and the GAMA-09 spectroscopic observations at the Anglo-Australian Telescope (AAT) to contribute to studies of cosmology, galaxy formation and evolution. See the full story here.
In July 2021, an international collaboration of astronomers and telescopes also revealed new imagery of galaxies moving at high speed, headed for an intergalactic collision. The cluster of galaxies is known as The Northern Clump, which was imaged for the first time with unprecedented detail at x-ray, visible and radio wavelengths. SRG/eROSITA, XMM-Newton and Chandra satellites were involved in creating this and other images, along with DECam optical data and CSIRO’s ASKAP radio telescope.
AAL is proud to support ongoing operations of CSIRO’s ASKAP telescope, and development of the CSIRO ASKAP Science Data Archive (CASDA), via NCRIS. AAL is also proud to represent all astronomers involved with the eROSITA project at Australian institutions via the agreement that made this collaboration possible, signed between AAL and the German eROSITA Consortium (eROSITA_DE).
For more on AAL-supported projects, please visit the “What we do” section of this website.
In 2021/22 AAL’s industry engagement program expanded and changed focus. Whereas in previous years AAL had focused on promoting existing commercialisation efforts, in the 2021/22 period AAL shifted to actively advising and assisting departments or individual teams to prioritise activities. This was largely done with the collaboration of commercialisation expert Dr Ilana Feain. AAL’s goal has been to encourage a more systematic process in regard to the commercialisation of Australian astronomy technology. This work is being achieved against a background of increasing government focus on realising the commercial benefits of scientific research.
Throughout 2021/22, AAL also expanded its website to showcase more success stories, capabilities and commercialisation activities of Australian astronomers. A selection of the projects we feature on the site are listed below (or see our special highlights story in the ‘Projects’ section above):
Despite the disruption and uncertainty that COVID-19 continued to bring to AAL’s workplaces, AAL staff again performed incredibly well during the 2021/22 financial year. Since the easing of restrictions, AAL staff have been given the choice to work where they are most productive, with most continuing to work from home. The majority of AAL’s interactions have also continued to take place online.
AAL is proud that it has member representatives from all institutions in Australia with a significant astronomy research program. In the 2021/22 financial year there were 15 institutional members of AAL. Each member organisation has a nominated representative who attends the Annual General Meeting (AGM) to elect Board Directors. Member representatives are also consulted throughout the year on key astronomy infrastructure and investment decisions. To see a list of AAL representatives, please visit the “Member Institutions” page of this website.
The independent, skills-based AAL Board of Directors comprises seven individuals with expertise in astronomy, management and finance. The board is responsible for the overall governance and strategic direction of AAL. They make key decisions about projects based on the recommendations of advisory committees, their own considerable and diverse expertise, and with consideration of the priorities and recommendations in the Decadal Plan. To see current AAL Board members, please visit the “Board of Directors” page of this website. For a list of AAL Board members current over the 2021/22 period, see the following list. Click on the names below to see a biography for each director:
AAL’s two advisory committees: the Science Advisory Committee (ASAC) and Project Oversight Committee (APOC) – continue to play an important role in ensuring the relevance and quality of AAL’s programs. Committee members are appointed to provide the relevant breadth of expertise, and an appropriate mix of gender, seniority and institutional diversity. AAL’s advisory committees provide strategic advice to the AAL Board in implementing the infrastructure priorities of the Decadal Plan, and support AAL in oversight of, and promoting improved outcomes for, AAL-funded projects. AAL also maintains a number of resource allocation committees, and an Industry Engagement Working Group. For more information, please visit the “AAL Committees” page of this website.
As well as these internally managed groups, AAL appoints astronomers to external boards and committees. AAL then provides support to these appointees to represent the interests of Australian astronomers nationally and internationally. For more information, please visit the “External Representatives” page of this website.
AAL has a long-standing commitment to equity and diversity. AAL’s employment philosophy is open and flexible, with a mix of full and part-time positions. It matches work modes with situations and needs, aiming to combine the best of office-based and virtual work, and having regard to the work/life balance and individual needs of AAL’s staff. With a responsibility for determining representation on a variety of external bodies related to astronomy, as well as membership of its advisory committees, AAL has a selection process for all these positions that addresses principles of inclusion and gender balance.
AAL’s values statement reflects AAL’s desire to consider the environment in its everyday operations while maintaining our existing emphasis on upholding respectful interactions with all people.
AAL endeavours to be an environmentally sustainable organisation built upon equity, diversity and mutual respect for its staff and stakeholders.
For more information, please visit the “Environmental, Social and Governance” page of this website.
Financial statements for the year ended 30 June 2022 were independently audited by RSM Australia Partners. Please see this link for the complete audited financial statements and auditor’s report.