Members agree dual site for SKA radio telescope

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Members of the SKA Organisation have agreed on a dual site for the Square Kilometre Array telescope, the world’s largest and most sensitive radio telescope.

Due to be built in Australia-New Zealand and South Africa, the €1.5bn (£1.2bn) project will consist of thousands of radiowave antennas all linked together by high-bandwidth optical fibre. The antennas will work together, acting as a single large instrument with a collecting area approximating 1km2.

According to CSIRO, the telescope aims to address fundamental questions about the evolution of the universe including the formation of black holes, the origins of the first stars and the generation of magnetic fields in space.

The area that will be used for the core of Australian SKA activity is the CSIRO-operated Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory (MRO).

The site is located 350km north-east of Geraldton in Western Australia and is claimed to be a world-class environment for radio astronomy.

The site already hosts CSIRO’s Australian SKA Pathfinder (ASKAP) radio telescope as well as other experiments such as the Murchison Widefield Array.

Chief of CSIRO Astronomy and Space Science, Dr Philip Diamond said: ‘ASKAP is a precursor SKA instrument for which construction is almost completed.

‘It will be a world-leading telescope in its own right and will utilise new technologies that can also be used for the SKA including a CSIRO-developed phased-array feed or “radio camera”.

‘This exciting new technology allows telescopes to scan the sky far more quickly than with traditional methods and is truly innovative. Our successful work with ASKAP stands us in good stead for the SKA.’

Construction of the SKA Phase 1 is expected to start in 2016 with sets of antennas with complementary frequencies to be placed on each continent and then networked together.

In Phase 1, Australia will build 60 mid-frequency SKA dishes equipped with phased array feeds as well as an array of low-frequency antennas.

Preliminary science operations are to take place by 2020.