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The largest radio telescope on Earth to explore the Universe and the origins of life
The Square Kilometre Array (SKA) is a global effort to build the largest radio telescope on Earth, with eventually over one million square metres of collecting area. SKA will be able to look back into the furthest reaches of the cosmos to study the first structures in the Universe, helping to understand some of the most fundamental questions in physics, as well as probing the nature of gravity and cosmic magnetism and exploring the origins of life itself.
The SKA Organisation (SKAO), that became a legal entity in 2011, coordinates the design and the policy making for the SKA. In 2012, the members of the SKAO agreed on a dual site location for the SKA telescope in the deserts of South Africa and Australia, while the site for the Headquarters – established in the UK – was decided in 2015. The Construction Phase will take place from 2020 to 2027 – with early science in 2025 – providing an operational array of telescopes capable of carrying out some of the key science set by the community, before scaling up to the full SKA by 2030s.
The first phase of SKA (SKA-1) will use ~200 dishes and ~130.000 low-frequency antennas that will enable astronomers to monitor the sky in unprecedented detail, and to survey the entire sky much faster than any system currently operating. The total collecting area of the full SKA will be well over one square kilometre, or 1.000.000 square metres, obtained with thousands of mid- to high-frequency steerable dishes, each of 15 metres in diameter in South Africa, and around half a million digitally-steerable low-frequency antennas in Australia. The SKA will truly be at the forefront of scientific research with a broad range of exciting science such as observing pulsars and black holes to detect the gravitational waves predicted by Einstein’s General Relativity, looking at how the very first stars and galaxies formed after the Big Bang, better than any experiment so far, helping scientists to investigate the nature of the mysterious dark energy, trying to understand the vast magnetic fields which permeate the cosmos, and exploring the origins of life itself.
Moreover, the SKA will challenge information technology developments at the vanguard of the emerging era of Big Data and High Performance Computing. The data analysis software needed will leap a generation in sophistication. The SKA is expected to become the largest public, research data project in the world, producing in its first phase, raw data totalling more than five times the estimated global internet traffic of 2015.
To date, there are ten nations funding the SKA with membership across five continents: Australia, Canada, China, India, Italy, the Netherlands, New Zealand, South Africa, Sweden and the UK, which represent about 40% of the world‘s population. Over 100 research and industrial organisations are working together to design the initial phase of the SKA with over 600 researchers and engineers involved around the world. Impact is foreseen through the hosting the SKA Headquarters and telescopes, by increasing activity in pre-construction at the telescope sites in South Africa and Australia, and by involving industry for developing technology solutions in meeting the challenges of SKA. The SKA project is also expected to generate substantial innovation in key technology areas such as Information and Communication Technology (ICT) and renewable energy as well as to impact on knowledge transfer and human capital development.
A high profile project like SKA truly excites scientists, and the general and non-specialist public worldwide. In fact, astronomy appeals to our natural curiosity, but it is also a stepping-stone to many other fields of science and technology development, including engineering, aerospace, mathematics and the natural sciences, all of which will have profound impact on our future economy and society.
Lower Withington, United Kingdom