After many years, construction has finally begun on the world’s largest telescope, the SKA-Low. As the name suggests, it’s part of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA), which is an international project to build the world’s largest radio telescope.
The SKA project will consist of thousands of antennas spread across the world, with central cores of operation in South Africa and Western Australia.
The SKA will eventually use thousands of dishes and up to a million low-frequency antennas that will enable astronomers to monitor the sky in unprecedented detail and survey the entire sky much faster than any system currently in existence.
The whole thing will eventually have over a square kilometre of collecting area, hence the name.
Well, today, construction has finally begun on the SKA Observatory, or SKAO. The SKAO is a next-generation radio astronomy Big Data facility that is expected to “revolutionise our understanding of the Universe and the laws of fundamental physics”.
To put this whole SKA project into perspective, the SKA telescopes will initially comprise 131,072 antennas in Australia (this will form the SKA-Low), which will be
built at Inyarrimanha Ilgari Bundara, the CSIRO Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory on Wajarri Country in Western Australia, and 197 dishes in South Africa (known as the SKA-Mid), to be built in the Karoo in South Africa.
The SKA Observatory’s telescopes will be one of humanity’s biggest-ever scientific endeavours.
The whole SKA project has been running for many years and pre-construction development of the SKA started in 2013.
“The concept for the SKA dates back to the early 1990s, and although the original name remains, the science goals, concept and engineering behind the project have evolved over the years, resulting in the science requirements of today that call for 130,000 antennas and 200 dishes,” the SKA Organisation says.
Among its many science goals, SKA-Low will explore the first billion years after the so-called ‘dark ages’ of the Universe, when the first-ever stars and galaxies were forming. It will map the structure of the infant Universe for the first time, enabling scientists to watch the births and deaths of the first stars, and help us to understand how the earliest galaxies formed.
“Over the past fifty years we’ve seen our understanding of the Universe revolutionised,” said Dr Sarah Pearce, SKA-Low Telescope Director and head of telescope operations in Australia.
“The SKA Observatory will define the next 50 years for radio astronomy, charting the birth and death of galaxies, searching for new types of gravitational waves and expanding the boundaries of what we know about the Universe.”
It was only last month that the traditional custodians of the Murchison region in Western Australia gave their consent to the radio telescope to be built on their ancestral lands. It was a negotiation that lasted nearly seven years.
“We are truly grateful to the Wajarri Yamaji for agreeing to host the telescope on their land,” SKAO Director-General Professor Philip Diamond said on Monday.
“We honour their willingness to share their skies and stars with us as we seek to find answers to some of the most fundamental science questions we face. And we commit to respecting their connection to the land, and preserving and protecting their cultural heritage.”