This radio telescope will be able to detect a phone in the pocket of an astronaut on Mars

The SKA observatory will be located in two different deserts and will have immense sensitivity. It will bring a new look at the cosmic dawn and many astronomical phenomena. This project started in the 1990s.

The construction of the Square Kilometer Array has just started. Abbreviated SKA, this observatory will be the largest radio telescope in the world… precisely, because it will be composed, in a way, of a myriad of small telescopes. There will be 200 parabolic antennas, as well as 130 dipole antennas (which look like fir trees).

It is therefore at the end of 2022 that this observatory, imagined in the 1990s, begins to come to life, after a long period of design. SKA Director General Philip Diamond calls the project “historic” and “one of the greatest scientific projects ever accomplished by mankind “.

The SKA radio telescope needs silence

The SKA is spread over two sites. The 200 satellite dishes are located in the Australian desert and the dipole antennas are in the South African desert. This division into two sites will increase the acuity of the telescope tenfold by making it possible to obtain, virtually, a broader view of the cosmos.

The SKA branches are located in South Africa. Source: SKA Observatory

The most desert sites possible were also chosen for the proper functioning of the SKA. A radio telescope focuses on broad wavelengths in the heart of deep space. It means he needs silence.

This does not mean that the installation will be easy. The desert is not devoid of life: ants, termites, and kangaroos are to be taken into account in the construction, as is the impact of heat on the components. So many challenges that increase the monumental character of the project.

Towards the origins of the Universe

The extreme sensitivity of this radio telescope will increase tenfold the ability of scientists to observe the cosmos with precision… and ever further: the birth and death of galaxies, and the study of gravitational waves. This, until going back to the beginnings of the Universe, at the time of the reionization, the cosmic dawn located between 400 million to 1 billion years after the Big Bang. This is an instrument that will therefore help to push back our understanding of the cosmos.

A journey to deliver the largest scientific instrument in the world. 

In a press release, astronomer Danny Price explains that the power of the SKA makes it able to detect without a problem “the phone in the pocket of an astronaut located on Mars, 225 million kilometers from us ”.

The SKA project is the result of many years of work. Today, we are gathered here to mark an important new chapter in this 30-year journey that we have embarked on together”, rejoices the president of the project, Catherine Cesarsky. “ A journey to deliver the largest scientific instrument in the world”. 


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