Home Radio waves Construction of world’s largest radio telescope to begin next month

Construction of world’s largest radio telescope to begin next month


Construction of the world’s largest radio telescope will begin next month, combining 200 large satellite dishes in the semi-arid Karoo region of South Africa and 130,000 small “Christmas tree” antennas spread across the hinterland of South Africa. Western Australia.

The giant € 2 billion Square Kilometer Array observatory, an international partnership between South Africa, Australia, the UK and four other countries, will be at least 10 times more powerful than existing telescopes. Astronomers say it will help them conduct research ranging from understanding the formation and evolution of galaxies to detecting the biochemical signs of life on distant planets.

The seven founding nations of the SKA Observatory said on Tuesday that the project’s technical and scientific record and funding were secure enough for construction to begin. Design and engineering preparations have been underway for seven years, and completion is now slated for July 2029.

“I am delighted,” said Prof. Philip Diamond, SKA CEO. “Today humanity is taking another giant step forward by committing to building what will be the largest such science facility on the planet – not just one, but the two largest and largest radio telescope arrays. complex, designed to unlock some of our universe’s most fascinating secrets.

South Africa, Australia and the United Kingdom, where the observatory’s headquarters are located at Jodrell Bank, near Manchester, will be the main financial contributors to construction costs.

Small “Christmas tree” antennas in Western Australia © ICRAR

The other founding members are China, Italy, the Netherlands and Portugal. “Today’s commitment by Member States is a strong signal for others to come on board and reap the benefits of participating in this one-of-a-kind research facility,” said Catherine Cesarsky, Chairman of the Board. from the observatory.

The other acceding countries are France, Spain, Switzerland, Canada, Germany, India, Sweden, Japan and South Korea.

The procurement process for the SKA contracts would begin immediately, the council said. “Over the next few months, some 70 contracts will be awarded by SKAO within its member states, with tenders taking place in each country. “

A wide variety of objects in space emit electromagnetic radiation with wavelengths much longer than the light visible to our eyes. The frequency and intensity of the signals depend on the chemical and physical processes that take place in each object.

By combining the signals received by low-frequency tree-shaped antennas in Australia and medium-frequency parabolic receivers in South Africa, SKA will cover an unprecedented range of wavelengths. Powerful data processing is then able to convert the signals into images.

Proportionate circles showing the world's largest telescopes

A challenge for the SKA, as for other radio telescopes, will be future interference from tens of thousands of satellites that operators like Elon Musk’s Starlink plan to put into low earth orbit to broadcast Internet connectivity around the world.

“We’re going to see them everywhere we look,” said Diamond. “We’ve been working with industry on mitigation measures, for example trying to get them to steer their downlink beams away from where we are.

“But we’ve been living with interference for as long as I’ve been a radio astronomer – almost 40 years,” Diamond added. “Although the new satellite constellations make our lives more difficult, they will not ruin the SKA.”

Astronomers say the observatory will help them conduct research ranging from understanding the formation of galaxies to detecting biochemical signs of life on distant planets © JPL-Caltech / NASA / SSC

Important tasks for the SKA will include studying spinning neutron stars known as pulsars, measuring gravitational waves, and looking back to the early universe when the first stars and galaxies were forming.

For the first time, astronomers will be able to “detect radio emissions from planets associated with nearby stars that are comparable to those generated by human activity on Earth, opening up the possibility of detecting technologically active civilizations elsewhere in our galaxy,” said the designers of the SKA. .

“The search for extraterrestrial intelligence [known in science circles as Seti] isn’t one of our main science missions, but if we find it, then “wow,” Diamond said. “We will be the best Seti machine on the planet.”