On Monday, the construction phase of one of the major scientific initiatives of the twenty-first century gets underway.
When finished in 2028, the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) will be the biggest radio telescope ever built.
The facility, which is divided between South Africa and Australia and has a headquarters in the UK, will tackle the most important astrophysical topics.
It will run the most accurate experiments to verify Einstein’s theories and perhaps look for extraterrestrial life.
At ceremonies taking place in the remote Murchison shire of Western Australia and the Karoo of South Africa’s Northern Cape, representatives from the eight nations leading the project are present. The bulldozers will arrive when the festivities are over.
Approximately 200 parabolic antennas, or “dishes,” and 131,000 dipole antennas, which resemble Christmas trees, will be included in the telescope’s original layout.
The goal is to have a productive collection area that is several hundred thousand square metres in size.
As a result, the SKA will be able to investigate targets in the sky with unprecedented sensitivity and resolution. The frequency range over which the system will operate is around 50 megahertz to 25 gigahertz. This falls within the centimetre to metre range in terms of wavelength. The telescope should be able to pick up extremely faint radio signals coming from cosmic sources billions of light-years away from Earth, including signals produced in the first few hundred million years following the Big Bang.
The whole history of hydrogen, the universe’s most prevalent element, will be one of the SKA’s main missions. Even before huge clouds of hydrogen collapsed to create the first stars, the telescope should be able to detect its presence.
The telescope is being constructed in locations where radio astronomy is already practised on a lesser scale.
But in order to develop these locations, different land agreements were needed with Karoo farmers and the Wajarri Yamaji, the Aboriginal title holders in the Murchison.
The celebration to launch the SKA on Monday was organised by the Wajarri community.
When six antenna sites in South Africa and four dishes in Australia are made to operate as a basic telescope together in 2024, that will be the first significant step forward. The array’s entire roll-out will start after this proof-of-concept instance.
A little under 500,000 square metres will be the effective collection area of the SKA by 2028. The configuration, though, allows it to expand farther, maybe all the way to the coveted one million square metres or square kilometre.
If more nations sign up to be a part of the organisation and donate the required sums, that is one way it might happen.
Currently, South Africa, Australia, the United Kingdom, China, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, and Switzerland are members. These nations have ratified the agreement.
Germany joined the path to membership after France, Spain, and most recently, France. Japan, South Korea, South Korea, Canada, India, and Sweden have all expressed a desire to join at some point.