"The surface of the Earth is the shore of the cosmic ocean... Recently, we've managed to wade a little way out, and the water seems inviting." - Carl Sagan
The Square Kilometer Array
A name soon to be added to the lexicon of every astro-junkie out there. Perhaps the most audacious international telescope project ever conceptualized.
As of May 7, 2013, less than a year after the decision to site the Square Kilometer Array(SKA) in both Southern Africa and Australia, the SKA Organization has opened its new international headquarters in Jodrell Bank Observatory, UK. This entire project has been a collaborative effort from a number of different countries: South Africa, Australia, Sweden, Canada, China, Italy, The Netherlands, Germany, and New Zealand. In light of this, let us “tune in” to some interesting facts of the (soon-to-be) world’s largest radio telescope.
This telescope is actually a network of thousands of radio telescopes that span across thousands of kilometers in two desert locations in Australia and in South Africa. These form what is called an “astronomical interferometer.” The harsh desert locations have been carefully chosen because of their remoteness from any possible man made radio interference.
The telescopes are linked together by powerful supercomputers to create one immense, radio telescope with a collecting area totaling about one square kilometer (hence the name). This equates to one million square meters (or 140 football fields) to collect the faintest of radio waves spanning from the very furthest reaches of the universe.
Poised to answer the biggest questions of astronomy, like the origin and evolution of the universe, it will investigate the first galaxies formed after the big bang. It is 50 times more powerful than any radio telescope we have ever created, and it has better resolution than the Hubble. The SKA will be able to collect data on vast swaths of the sky, and at a speed 10 000 times faster than current survey telescopes. If fact, it is so sensitive that it would be able to detect airport radar on another planet 50 LIGHT YEARS away.
It will provide the highest resolution images in astronomy; it will require high powered computer servers greater than the current global internet needs. The SKA central computer will have the processing power of about one hundred million PCs. This is truly high-performance computing; in one month, it will generate more information than is contained in the world’s academic libraries.