In Australia, work has begun on one of the most important astronomy projects of this century: the Square Kilometer Array (SKA) radio telescope, which will become the largest such observatory on Earth. Thousands of antennas will be installed in Australia and South Africa and the SKA will be more than 50 times more powerful than what currently exists on Earth.
SKA observatory – illustrationPhoto: skatelescope.org
This project has been in preparation for 30 years: in the first ten they worked on the development of concepts and general ideas, another 10 years they worked on the development of technologies and another decade took design, negotiations, obtaining land and, above all, financing.
The SKA will be the most powerful radio telescope ever built and thousands of antennas will be installed in Australia and South Africa, linked by a broadband fiber optic network.
Installation of the first antennas begins in the Wajarri region of Australia and work will also start in the Karoo region of South Africa. So far the investments amount to 500 million euros and the budget is 2 billion euros, until 2028. It is very likely that the budget will be exceeded and that the telescope will be fully operational later than forecast. The important thing is that it is being built.
The first milestone should be in 2024, when four satellite dishes in Australia will be able to link up with six dishes in South Africa to form an early astronomical observatory that will then be developed further.
An astronomer quoted by The Guardian gave an example of how powerful the new observatory would be: it would be able to detect a mobile phone in the pocket of an astronaut who would be on Mars, 225 million km from Earth.
The SKA will be able to detect radio signals from the very distant past of the Universe, including more than 13 billion years ago, in the first hundreds of millions of years after the Big Bang.
In total, approximately 200 satellite dishes and more than 131,000 small dishes, the size of Christmas trees, will be installed.
Eight countries are part of the project: Australia, South Africa, Great Britain, China, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal and Switzerland. Three more are about to enter: France, Spain and Germany.
Surse: Guardian, BBC