Construction has got underway in Australia and South Africa of a network of antennas which, when complete, together will form the world’s largest radio telescope, the Square Kilometre Array (SKA).
The giant cross-continental telescope is expected to produce scientific results that will change our understanding of the universe.
Both South Africa and Australia have huge expanses of land in remote areas with little radio disturbance which is ideal for this kind of installation.
The idea for the telescope was first conceived in the early 1990s, but the project was plagued by delays, funding issues, and diplomatic jockeying.
The SKA is headquartered in the United Kingdom and has 14 members: Britain, Australia, South Africa, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Italy, New Zealand, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and The Netherlands.
The director general of the Square Kilometre Array Organisation, Philip Diamond, has described the beginning of its construction as ‘momentous’ saying it will be ‘one of humanity's biggest-ever scientific endeavours’.
More than 130,000 Christmas tree-shaped antennas are planned in Western Australia, to be built on the traditional lands of the Wajarri Aboriginal people. In South Africa, the site will feature nearly 200 dishes in the remote Karoo region.
The large distances between the antennas, and their sheer number, mean that the telescope will pick up radio signals with unprecedented sensitivity as the SKA probes targets in the sky.
‘The two complementary telescopes will be the ears on either side of the planet, allowing us to listen to those murmurings from the deep universe which are driving such excitement in both science and deepen our understanding of the universe in which we live and the origins of life,’ says George Freeman, Britain’s Minister of State for Science, Research and Innovation.
Construction of the SKA is due to be completed in 2028.