Square Kilometre Array Observatory launched: Everything to know about the largest radio telescope mission

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February 6, 2021 2:07 PM

With these two networks, the intergovernmental organisation hopes to answer some of the fundamental questions regarding the universe.

skao largest radio telescopeSKA is a project marking the participation of 40% of the global population. (Image: SKAO/Dragons Eye Filming)

Square Kilometre Array (SKA) telescope: This week, an intergovernmental organisation called the SKA Observatory was launched in order to give a push to radio astronomy. The launch came after the SKAO Council held its first meeting, and it aims to build and operate two radio telescope networks, which would be the largest and most complex ones ever conceived. With these two networks, the intergovernmental organisation hopes to answer some of the fundamental questions regarding the universe. The two networks will be based in South Africa and Australia.

SKAO radio telescopes

Under the organisation, two radio telescope networks would be set up, and they would not be a single telescope but an array of antennas and dishes of radio telescopes. The network that would be set up in South Africa would consist of as many as 197 dishes having a diameter of 15 metres each, and these would be located in the Karoo region. Of these dishes, 64 already exist and are being operated by SARAO or the South African Radio Astronomy Observatory (SARAO).

On the other hand, the telescope network in Australia would consist of a whopping 1,31,072 antennas, each being two metres tall, and they would be located on the Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO).

The SKAO has been designed to operate for more than five decades, and the construction of the first phase of the SKA is estimated to be completed by 2027. However, the organisation hopes to get the Early Science verification results by 2025.

How many countries are participating in this organisation

SKA is a project marking the participation of 40% of the global population, in terms of the countries that are participating. As many as 16 countries are currently a part of this project either at a government or national-coordination level or as observers. This includes India, Australia, the United Kingdom, South Africa, Japan, the Netherlands, South Korea, Germany, France, Canada, Portugal, Italy, Switzerland, Spain, China, and Sweden.

Moreover, there are eight African countries which are participating in coordinated action in order to support the expansion of the SKA project in the continent in the future.

India is participating at a national-coordination level, which is led by the National Centre for Radio Astrophysics of the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research. A total of 19 institutions are a part of the Indian coordination team, including IISc Bangalore, IIT Indore, IIT Kharagpur, and IIT Kanpur among others, and these institutions are located across the country.

Scientific goals of SKAO

The scientific aims of this project include the studying of gravitational waves in order to test the theories proposed by Albert Einstein, along with improving the human understanding of the Universe’s evolution. Apart from that, the SKAO also hopes to look for signs of life in outer space, while mapping hundreds of millions of galaxies.

The data collected from the SKAO infrastructure would be transferred to regional centres around the world so that the science community can benefit from this. The project would be data incentive and fastest supercomputers in the world at the moment would be needed to process the entire data in real-time, as the data produced would amount to about 600 petabytes (1 petabyte = 1024 terabytes) every year.

Amazing facts about SKA

Here are some amazing facts about SKA to put things into perspective.

  1. The data that the antennas would transfer to the on-site signal processor would be 1 lakh times faster than the projected average speed of broadband in 2022.
  2. The amount of optical fibre required for SKA would be sufficient to wrap around the Earth twice.
  3. The volume of data that SKA would store would be sufficient to fill more than 10 lakh laptops having a storage capacity of 500GB.
  4. The sensitivity of SKA would be enough to detect an airport radar located on a planet that is tens of light years away from the Earth.

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