The world’s largest radio telescope will start construction next month

Construction of the world’s largest radio telescope will begin next month. It will combine 200 large dish-shaped receivers in the semi-arid Karoo region of South Africa with 130,000 small “Christmas tree” antennas distributed in the outback of Western Australia.

An international partnership between South Africa, Australia, the United Kingdom and four other countries, the huge square kilometer array observatory, costing 2 billion euros, has at least 10 times the function of existing telescopes. Astronomers say this will help them conduct research, from understanding how galaxies form and evolve to detecting biochemical signs of life on distant planets.

The seven founding countries of the SKA Observatory stated on Tuesday that the project’s technical and scientific cases and funding are safe enough to begin construction. The design and engineering preparations have been underway for seven years and are now scheduled to be completed in July 2029.

“I’m ecstatic,” said Professor Philip Diamond, Director-General of SKA. “Today, mankind is taking another huge leap, committed to building the largest scientific facility of its kind on Earth — not just one, but the two largest and most complex networks of radio telescopes, designed to unlock some of the most fascinating The secret of our universe.”

South Africa, Australia and the United Kingdom, where the headquarters of the Jodrell Bank’s observatory are located near Manchester, will be the largest sources of construction costs.

Small “Christmas Tree” antenna in Western Australia © ICRAR

The other founding members are China, Italy, the Netherlands and Portugal. Catherine Cesarsky, Chairman of the Board of the Observatory, said: “The commitment of the member states today is a strong signal for others to join and benefit from this unique research institution.”

Other countries that have become members include France, Spain, Switzerland, Canada, Germany, India, Sweden, Japan and South Korea.

The council stated that the procurement process for the SKA contract will begin immediately. “In the next few months, SKAO will sign approximately 70 contracts in its member states and conduct competitive bidding in each country.”

The electromagnetic radiation emitted by a wide variety of objects in outer space has a much longer wavelength than the light visible to our naked eyes. The frequency and strength of the signal depend on the chemical and physical processes that occur within each object.

By combining signals received by Australia’s low-frequency tree antenna and South Africa’s mid-frequency dish receiver, SKA will cover an unprecedented range of wavelengths. Then, powerful data processing capabilities can convert the signal into an image.

Scale circle showing the largest telescope in the world

Like other radio telescopes, one of the challenges facing SKA will be interference from tens of thousands of satellites in the future. Operators of these satellites, such as Elon Musk’s Starlink, plan to send these satellites into low-Earth orbit to send Internet to all parts of the world. connection.

“We can see them everywhere,” Diamond said. “We have been working with the industry to take mitigation measures, such as trying to get them to aim the downstream beam away from where we are.

“But as long as I have a radio astronomer, we have been living with interference-nearly 40 years,” Diamond added. “Although the new satellite constellations will make our lives more difficult, they will not destroy SKA.”

Astronomers said that the observatory will help them conduct research, from understanding how galaxies form to detecting biochemical signs of life on distant planets © JPL-Caltech/NASA/SSC

SKA’s important tasks will include studying rotating neutron stars called pulsars, measuring gravitational waves, and reviewing the early universe when the first stars and galaxies formed.

The designers of SKA said that for the first time astronomers will be able to “detect radio radiation from planets related to nearby stars, which is equivalent to the radiation produced by human activities on Earth, opening up the possibility of detecting technologically active civilizations elsewhere in the Milky Way.” .

“Looking for extraterrestrial wisdom [known in science circles as Seti] Not one of our main scientific tasks, but if we do find it, then’Wow,'” Diamond said. “We will be the best Seti machine on earth. “

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