And now SKA, the world’s most powerful network of radio telescopes
The Square Kilometre Array (SKA) project is one step closer to reality thanks to the announcement of new co-funding by the European Union for the creation of the world’s largest and most powerful radio telescope. Designed as a “collection” of telescopes, based in two very distant geographical areas, Western Australia and South Africa, the research infrastructure will be built beginning from 2018. The project is supported by a collaboration of 10 countries, in which Italy participates through the National Institute for Astrophysics.
With a new 5 million euro co-funding, the European Union bets on the Square Kilometre Array (SKA): the world’s most ambitious radio telescope under study. The allocated funding – in addition to the 150 million euro currently invested globally in the pre-construction phase – will support the detailed design of the infrastructure at the two sites chosen for the first phase of the project: the Murchison region in Western Australia and the Karoo region in South Africa.
Based on an idea dating back to the early 1990s, the project for the construction of SKA will start in 2018, while the first data collection is scheduled for 2020. As suggested by the name, Square Kilometre Array, the idea is to build not a single telescope, but a “collection” of various types of antennas – an array – to be spread over long distances, with eventually over 1 square kilometre of collecting area. The project – which will be carried out in two phases – involves the construction of an instrument that will be tens of times more sensitive and will survey the sky hundreds of times faster than the most advanced radio telescopes currently available.
To achieve these objectives, the Square Kilometre Array will use extremely advanced information technologies to collect and process a massive amount of data. Based on the project, SKA will be able to collect an amount of data in a single day that would take two million years to playback on an iPod and will be so sensitive that it could detect the signal of a hypothetical airport radar located on a planet tens of light years away from Earth. These characteristics will make the Square Kilometre Array powerful enough to detect extremely weak radio signals emitted by cosmic sources more than 13 billion years of the universe, when galaxies and primordial stars began to form.
This ambitious project is a strong international collaboration of 10 countries, with Italy involved through the National Institute for Astrophysics (INAF), together with Australia, Canada, China, India, New Zealand, South Africa, Sweden, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom.