The Australian Government just announced it will spend 40 million dollars over the next four years to support Australia’s bid to host the Square Kilometre Array (SKA.) If, like me last week, you’re not really sure what the SKA is and Google seems to think it’s some kind of music – here’s the lowdown based on the RiAus event I went to on Thursday hosted by Professor Peter Quinn.
The SKA is a radio telescope 10,000 times more powerful than any other, a single scientific instrument comprised of individual dish antennas 15 metres wide working together.
From a central, densely packed core, receiving dishes will spread outward an area of over 3,000 kilometres. Combining their signals creates a telescope with the collecting area equivalent to a single dish one square kilometre in area.
Where will this massive instrument live?
The shortlist has been whittled down to two: South Africa and Australia. If in South Africa, the dishes will reach onto islands in the Indian Ocean. If in Australia, they will extend into New Zealand.
The final decision will be announced next year. Being Australian, naturally I’m hoping we’ll get the honour.Our bid puts the SKA core in the Western Australia desert, Murchison Shire.
From here, the dishes would spiral out in five long arms across Australia and New Zealand.
The proposed core site is a space the size of the Netherlands, it contains 110 permanent residents.
With low population comes low radio interference. CSIRO scientists are working on innovative solutions to keep the site radio-quiet.
For example, trains in the region currently communicate by radio, and there’s dialogue to come up with an alternative that will work for trains without interfering with the SKA.
What will we find out there with our powerful telescope? Well, if ET phones home within our galaxy, with the SKA, we’ll hear it. In the next post, I’ll talk more about finding first light, when the galaxies began to glow.