Construction on massive radio telescope array to begin in 2012

Friday, October 5, 2007

Artists impression of the Square Kilometer Array.
Image: ©SKA/Xilostudios.

Scientists have announced that the largest radio telescope array in the world, the Square Kilometer Array (SKA) is to be built in either Africa or Australia and will be composed of thousands of antenna arrays that will be capable of detecting the first galaxies and stars formed in our universe. The control center for the array is announced to be located in the United Kingdom in Manchester, England at the Jodrell Bank Centre for Astrophysics.

"The next generation radio telescope - the Square Kilometer Array – will carry on this tradition of innovation. The goal is to construct a network of antennas working at centimeter to meter wavelengths with 100 times the sensitivity of the largest existing arrays. This telescope will play a major role in the following decades, alongside other next generation facilities in the millimeter, optical/IR, X-ray and so on, in further exploring the content and evolution of the universe," said a press released on SKA's website.

Map showing the two possible locations for the array.

Construction will begin in 2012 and cost over US$2 billion (£1 billion, €1.4 billion) to build. The array will reportedly begin operation by the year 2020. SKA decided to release the details of the array plans on the 50th anniversary of the launch of Sputnik. At least 17 different countries and 55 schools, universities, engineers and astronomers are expected to take involvement in the project.

The array will be built in one of two locations. The first option is in Mileura, Australia. According to SKA's website, the location is ideal because "only 100,000 people inhabit the five million square kilometers of the interior" area of western Australia, making it one of "the most radio-quiet locations on Earth."

The second option is in South Africa in Northern Cape Province because of the "dry climate, a good existing infrastructure of roads and power reticulation, a low Radio Frequency Interferences (RFI), low land prices and low operating costs" and "has a appropriately skilled workforce and a well-established telecommunications infrastructure," says SKA's website.

The array is going to be more than 50 times as powerful as the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, which is currently the largest radio telescope on the planet.