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The Riddle of the Red Square


This project is a detailed study of one of the most fascinating new nebulae to be discovered in recent years by Astronomers: The Red Square. As a likely imminent supernova precursor, this system may give us the best example of a structure which may be responsible for the ring system seen in the only naked-eye supernova in living memory: SN 1987A.


Professor Peter Tuthill.

Research location

School of Physics

Program type



The ``Red Square'' is a spectacular, newly-discovered bipolar nebula (Tuthill et al, Science 2007). Using cutting-edge imaging techniques such as Adaptive Optics and Optical Interferometry implemented at some of the world’s largest observatories (e.g. Keck, Gemini), we have revealed beautiful and startlingly detailed structures. A striking set of rungs crossing the nebula imply the existence of a highly regular series of nested bicones: possibly a relic of previous episodes of eruption or instability in the host star MWC 922 at the heart of the system. What is particularly compelling about this object is the correspondence between the sharp rung structures we see in The Red Square, and the beautiful polar rings now exhibited by the only naked-eye supernova since the invention of the telescope: SN 1987A. The origin of these mysterious rings stands out as one of the foremost unsolved problems in Supernova astronomy, and in the Red Square, we may have found the best example of a candidate progenitor for these structures. For this project, you will unravel the physics of this fascinating target and participate in new observing programs for the Keck telescopes (Hawaii) and VLT telescopes (Chile). In revealing the true nature of the enigmatic star MWC 922, we hope to solidify the links between this new nebula and the relic structures around SN 1987A.

Additional information

HDR Inherent Requirements

In addition to the academic requirements set out in the Science Postgraduate Handbook, you may be required to satisfy a number of inherent requirements to complete this degree. Example of inherent requirement may include:

- Confidential disclosure and registration of a disability that may hinder your performance in your degree;
- Confidential disclosure of a pre-existing or current medical condition that may hinder your performance in your degree (e.g. heart disease, pace-maker, significant immune suppression, diabetes, vertigo, etc.);
- Ability to perform independently and/or with minimal supervision;
- Ability to undertake certain physical tasks (e.g. heavy lifting);
- Ability to undertake observatory, sensory and communication tasks;
- Ability to spend time at remote sites (e.g. One Tree Island, Narrabri and Camden);
- Ability to work in confined spaces or at heights;
- Ability to operate heavy machinery (e.g. farming equipment);
- Hold or acquire an Australian driver’s licence;
- Hold a current scuba diving license;
- Hold a current Working with Children Check;
- Meet initial and ongoing immunisation requirements (e.g. Q-Fever, Vaccinia virus, Hepatitis, etc.)

You must consult with your nominated supervisor regarding any identified inherent requirements before completing your application.

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Opportunity ID

The opportunity ID for this research opportunity is 656

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