The Square Kilometre Array
Australia and South Africa will soon share the world’s biggest and most sensitive radio telescope: the Square Kilometre Array. This internationally-funded mega-telescope consists of 3,000 dishes with a combined collecting area of one square kilometre (or one million square metres), which will survey the sky 10,000 times faster than ever before and will be 50 times more sensitive than existing radio telescopes—sensitive enough to detect an aircraft radar 50 light-years away. The array must therefore be built in radio-quiet zones free from interference: the Karoo desert in the Northern Cape, South Africa, and in Murchison, Western Australia. To achieve high sensitivity and high-resolution images, the SKA antennae will be distributed in clusters along five spiral arms, dense at the core but becoming more widely spaced. The telescope seeks to revolutionise our understanding of the universe, with five key projects chosen for study: the “dark ages” of the universe and the evolution of the first luminous objects; the process of planet building in habitable zones of other stars; the role of cosmic magnetism; the nature of gravity; and the nature of dark energy. However, as the past has proven, often the greatest discoveries happen unexpectedly. The first phase of the Square Kilometre Array’s construction will begin in 2016, and the project should be complete by 2024.
Check out an animation of what the telescope will look like
(Image Credit: skatelescope)