The world’s largest radio telescope, the Square Kilometer Array that’s to be based in both South Africa and Australia, is a major step closer to being an actual thing in the world today as the organisation that looks after it has decided to move it into “its final pre-construction phase”.
This is good news for several reasons, not least of all that South Africa is a step closer to playing its part in the study of the universe and possibly helping to find the answers to life, the universe and everything. Literally.
“Thanks to these two complementary instruments, we will address a broad range of exciting science, such as observing pulsars and black holes to detect the gravitational waves predicted by Einstein, testing gravity, and looking for signatures of life in the galaxy”, said Professor Robert Braun, Science Director of the SKA Organisation in a media statement.
“We will also observe one of the last unexplored periods in the history of our Universe – the epoch of re-ionisation – looking back to the first billion years of the Universe at a time when the first stars and galaxies are forming.”
The scientists involved are convinced that the SKA will have a huge positive impact in the field of science. Professor John Womersley, Chair of the SKA Board of Directors said that “This incredible telescope […] will drive technology development in the era of Big Data, and it is going to deliver Nobel prize-winning science. In short, it will have an invaluable impact on society like very few enterprises before it.”
Phase 1 of the project involves the construction of two arrays, one in South Africa and one in Australia. While the description makes it sound like each telecope is just one instrument, both SKAs will in fact be made up of a collection of telescopes and instruments spread out over long distances. Phase 2 involves expanding into other African countries and adding to the Australian SKA.
The reason behind the complexity is not only the technology itself, but the fact that the organisation behind its construction brought together some of the world’s best scientists, engineers and of course policy-makers, as well as involved more than 100 companies from 20 countries to get it done. That it’s only taken a few years is nothing short of a miracle.
The physical construction of both arrays is scheduled to begin in 2018, with the earliest scientific observations to be made possible in 2020. So not too long to go now.
[Image – CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons]