An image of how one element of the SKA might look (Credit: Chris Fluke, Swinburn University of Technology)
European funding has now been agreed to start designing the world’s largest telescope. The ‘Square Kilometre Array’ (SKA) will be an international radio telescope with a collecting area of one million square metres - equivalent to about 200 football pitches – making SKA 200 times bigger than the University of Manchester’s Lovell Telescope at Jodrell Bank and so the largest radio telescope ever constructed. Such a telescope would be so sensitive that it could detect TV Broadcasts coming from the nearest stars. The four-year Square Kilometre Array Design Study [SKADS] will bring together European and international astronomers to formulate and agree the most effective design. The final design will enable the SKA to probe the cosmos in unprecedented detail, answering fundamental questions about the Universe, such as ‘what is dark energy?’ and “how did the structure we see in galaxies today actually form?’
The new telescope will test Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity to the limit – and perhaps prove it wrong. It is certain to add to the long list of fundamental discoveries already made by radio astronomers including quasars, pulsars and the radiation left over from the Big Bang. By the end of this decade the design will be complete and astronomers anticipate building SKA in stages, leading to completion and full operation in 2020.
The SKA concept was first proposed to observe the characteristic radio emission from hydrogen gas. Measurements of the hydrogen signature will enable astronomers to locate and weigh a billion galaxies.
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