Giant Radio Telescope Update: Square Kilometer Array Faces Location Quandary

The giant has no place to go, as of now! Or maybe, just one place too many. The Square Kilometer Array (SKA), the biggest array of ground based radio telescopes, is now hanging in the balance searching for a site. The two contenders are Australia and South Africa.

An artist's impression of the SKA. (Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons)

About the SKA

The SKA costs a whopping 1.5 billion euros. The mammoth array is set have a collecting are of 1 square kilometer and be sensitive over a very wide range of frequencies. The radius of the array will be at least 3000 km from the central core (a few telescopes clustered at the center) and the total data uplink-downlink will dwarf even the total global Internet data transfer, when it will actively observe! This means that the computers handling the data will have to be state-of-the-art as well as the means to transfer data. It will look into the Universe, as it was about 300,000 years after the Big Bang till the time when it became transparent, i.e. the reionization era.

The core array of the SKA. It is set to have three different sub-arrays having antenna probing different frequency regimes within the radio. (Courtesy: Wikimedia)

Construction of the array is set to begin in 2016 and end in 2019. It will see first light sometime in 2020.

The two rivals

The Australian side is promising the core of the array in the west of the continent and the outer arms and outstations stretching across the sea to New Zealand. The South African contingency plans its core in the Karoo region, North Cape, in the northern part of the country, and the outer arms are going to stretch to eight neighbouring countries!

The requirements for selecting a site for a radio telescope include arid conditions, radio-quiet regions and low human activity.

The site will be finalized by the end of this year and only then will the SKA construction start off!

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Debjyoti Bardhan

Is a science geek, currently pursuing some sort of a degree (called a PhD) in Physics at TIFR, Mumbai. An enthusiastic but useless amateur photographer, his most favourite activity is simply lazing around. He is interested in all things interesting and scientific.