In a remote corner of the Western Australian outback, work has begun on the world’s largest radio telescope. Astronomers say the Square Kilometre Array will be capable of searching the stars for signals of intelligent life and listening back to the start of the universe.
It is an international scientific collaboration. 130,000 antennas and 200 satellite dishes will make up the Square Kilometre Array project, or SKA. It will comprise two giant and super sensitive telescopes at observatories in Australia and South Africa.
By listening and looking deep into space, scientists hope the project can help answer some fundamental questions: Are we alone in the universe? How did the first stars come to shine? and What exactly is “dark energy” — the mysterious phenomena that appears to be pulling the cosmos apart?
Experts have said the SKA needs to be set up far away from the disturbances of radio frequencies on earth like those from computers, cars and planes.
They have said it will be eight times more sensitive than existing telescopes and will map the sky 135 times faster.
Danny Price, a senior research fellow at the Curtin Institute of Radio Astronomy at Curtin University, told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. Monday that the SKA has unprecedented astronomical power.
“It is going to be one of the most sensitive instruments that humanity has ever built,” Price said. “To put it into perspective the SKA could detect a mobile phone in the pocket of an astronaut on Mars.”
Australia, South Africa, Canada and Britain are among more than a dozen countries providing funding to the project.
A land agreement between traditional Indigenous owners, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization — the CSIRO, Australia’s national science agency and the Western Australian and federal governments has allowed construction of the international Square Kilometre Array telescope to officially start Monday.
The giant radio telescope is expected to be operational by the end of the decade.