One of Century's Biggest Science Projects Is Underway

Square Kilometer Array will search for extraterrestrials, among other things
By Mike L. Ford,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 5, 2022 2:23 PM CST
One of Century's Biggest Science Projects Is Underway
This site of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) radio telescope project in South Africa.   (AP Photo/Schalk van Zuydam, File)

Astronomers and other folks curious about the nature and origins of the universe—not to mention the possible existence of extraterrestrial life—have a new reason to cheer: construction has begun on the world’s largest radio telescope. Per the BBC, the Square Kilometre Array is scheduled for completion in 2028. The project is headquartered in the UK, but the telescope itself has a global presence. Monday was groundbreaking day at construction sites in remote parts of South Africa and western Australia. The SKA will initially include nearly 200 parabolic antennas (aka "dishes") in South Africa and some 131,000 dipole antennas in Australia.

Together, this infrastructure "should enable the telescope to detect very faint radio signals coming from cosmic sources billions of light-years from Earth, including those signals emitted in the first few hundred million years after the Big Bang," according to the BBC. SABC News interviewed Tracy Cheatham, director of construction at the South African site, current home of the Meerkat Radio Telescope, which was already credited with taking the “clearest picture of the center of the universe" to date shortly after it became operational in 2016. During this construction phase of SKA, 133 dishes will be added to the site, which will then integrate the Meerkat’s architecture for a grand total of 197 dishes.

The Australian project, called SKA-Low, is situated at the existing CSIRO Murchison observatory, but it's now called "Inyarrimanha Ilgari Bundara," a name chosen by the local Wajarri Yamaji people meaning "Sharing sky and stars," per Nature. The array will one day “generate staggering quantities of data,” far more than the current sum of global internet traffic, according to a video produced by Australia’s Department of Industry, Science, and Resources. SKA’s proponents hope the array will continue to grow in coming decades as more countries sign on to the agreement governing its development. (Read more radio telescope stories.)

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