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Construction Started on the Biggest Radio Observatory in Earth’s History – Could Uncover Early Signs of Life in the Universe

SKA sites in Australia and South Africa at Night. Credit: SKAO

Construction of the world’s biggest radio astronomy facility, the Square Kilometer Array Observatory (SKAO), began on December 4. The observatory is a global project 30 years in the making.

With two huge two telescopes, one (low-frequency) in Australia and the other (mid-frequency) in South Africa, the project will see further into the history of the Universe than ever before.

Astronomers like me will use the Square Kilometer Array (SKA) telescopes to trace hydrogen over cosmic time and make precise measurements of gravity in extreme environments. What’s more, we hope to uncover the existence of complex molecules in planet-forming clouds around distant stars, which could be the early signs of life elsewhere in the Universe.

I have been involved in the SKA and its precursor telescopes for the past ten years, and as the chief operations scientist of the Australian telescope since July. I am helping to build the team of scientists, engineers, and technicians who will construct and operate the telescope, along with undertaking science to map primordial hydrogen in the infant universe.

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Construction on the Australian component of the world’s largest radio telescope observatory, the SKA-Low telescope, is starting in Wajarri Yamaji Country in remote Western Australia. The SKA telescopes will be made up of more than 131,000 antennas in Australia and almost 200 dishes in South Africa, will provide an unparalleled view of the Universe, and be one of the biggest science facilities on Earth.

What is the SKA Observatory?

The SKA Observatory is an intergovernmental organization with dozens of countries involved. The observatory is much more than the two physical telescopes, with headquarters in the UK and collaborators around the world harnessing advanced computers and software to tailor the telescope signals to the precise science being undertaken.

The telescope in South Africa (called SKA-Mid) will use 197 radio dishes to observe middle-frequency radio waves from 350 MHz to more than 15 GHz. It will study the extreme environments of neutron stars, organic molecules around newly forming planets, and the structure of the Universe on the largest scales.

The Australian telescope (SKA-Low), in Western Australia, will observe lower frequencies with 512 stations of radio antennas spread out over a 74-kilometer (46-mile) span of the outback.

The site is located within Inyarrimanha Ilgari Bundara, the CSIRO Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory. This name, which means “sharing sky and stars,” was given to the observatory by the Wajarri Yamaji, the traditional owners and native title holders of the observatory site.

Source: SciTechDaily