The SKA observes on a wide range of frequencies. For frequencies lower than 1 GHz, the engineers at ASTRON have developed new technology: large numbers of immobile aperture arrays. ASTRON is coordinator of a European consortium that developed this technology on a large scale. The goal is to show that this technology is suitable for astronomical applications and cost efficient enough to produce such large numbers of these antennas to cover a complete square kilometre.
The target cost for the SKA is €1,500 million.
The SKA will be built in South Africa and Australia.
Astronomers and engineers from more than 70 institutes in 20 countries are designing the SKA that will be 50 times more sensitive, and will survey the sky 10,000 times faster, than any other telescope. The SKA will be a global telescope and the data will be processed in centres around the world.
Radio telescopes detect radio-frequency signals from space. They provide alternative views of the Universe than those seen with an optical telescope and can reveal areas of space that may be obscured with cosmic dust.
Signals received by the SKA will be transferred to a central high performance supercomputer by optical fibres. The rate at which the vast quantities of data will be transferred to the supercomputer will far exceed the data rates of current internet traffic.
The SKA will address five fundamental unanswered questions about the Universe we live in:
The expansion of the Universe has been attributed to a mysterious dark energy. The SKA will investigate the expansion of the Universe after the Big Bang by mapping the cosmic distribution of hydrogen. The map will track young galaxies and help identify the nature of dark energy.
The SKA will be able to detect very weak extraterrestrial signals and will search for complex molecules, the building blocks of life, in space.
The SKA will look back to the Dark Ages, a time before the Universe lit up, to discover how the earliest black holes and stars were formed.
The SKA will create three-dimensional maps of cosmic magnets to understand how they stabilise galaxies, influence the formation of stars and planets, and regulate solar and stellar activity.
The SKA will investigate the nature of gravity and challenge the theory of general relativity.
The SKA will explore the unknown and, if history is any guide, it will make many more discoveries than we can imagine today.
Five stages of development of the SKA are planned:
|2008-2012||System design and costing.|
|2013-2015||Detailed design and production engineering.|
|2023||Completion of construction and commissioning.|
The SKA will use 3,000 dishes, each about 15 m wide. Two other types of receptor, known as aperture arrays, will also be used to observe very large areas of the sky simultaneously.
The receptors will be arranged in five spiral arms extending from a central core to at least 3,000 km. In Australia the SKA would stretch all the way to New Zealand and in Southern Africa it would stretch to the Indian Ocean islands.
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