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Super machine for astronomers: starting signal for the world's largest radio telescope


Supermachine for astronomers: In Australia and South Africa, the construction of thousands of antennas has started - interconnected, they should one day function as a mega-telescope.

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This is what the part of the telescope in Australia should look like: Thousands of dipole antennas are to be interconnected to form the largest radio telescope in the world

Photo: Australia's Department of Industry / AFP

The areas where the start of construction for the Square Kilometer Array, SKA for short, is celebrated are remote.

That is also the intention.

Because nothing should disturb the reception of the largest radio telescope in the world - no radio transmitter, radar or GPS signal.

The choice therefore fell on the semi-desert landscape of the Karoo in South Africa and Murchison Shire in western Australia.

Both regions are among the most remote areas in the world.

The idea for the world's largest radio telescope was already germinating in the 1980s, and construction finally began on Monday after several delays.

"That's when it gets real," Phil Diamond, SKA's general manager, said at the opening, according to the BBC.

Part of the system will be 200 parabolic antennas and 131,000 dipole antennas reminiscent of Christmas trees.

10,000 times faster than before

The thousands of individual antennas are to be connected to one another via fiber optic lines, making it the largest radio telescope in the world.

Together, the antennas then have a reception area of ​​one million square meters.

According to the plans, some of the antennas will be close together within a radius of more than two kilometers.

The rest will be arranged in a spiral, hundreds to thousands of kilometers apart.

Astronomers hope that the huge receiving surface will make it possible to map cosmic structures such as our Milky Way, but also the first galaxies in the universe.

The SKA is said to be 50 times more sensitive than previous radio telescopes and measure 10,000 times faster.

This will allow the SKA to look deeper into the universe.

Part of the plant will be in South Africa, the other in Australia.

The headquarters are set up in Great Britain.

The SKA is regarded as a super machine that is part of groundbreaking scientific facilities such as the LHC particle accelerator at the European nuclear research center CERN.

The world's largest radio telescope is scheduled to be completed in 2028.

The mystery of radio waves from space

Radio waves are not fundamentally different from visible light, which is also electromagnetic radiation, but have a much longer wavelength of between 10 centimeters and 100 kilometers.

They bear their name because radio stations use the wavelength range to transmit their programs.

Cosmic radio waves are created in a variety of natural processes: gas clouds in space emit characteristic radio radiation, the wavelength of which reveals their chemical composition.

Radio waves have the advantage that they can be observed from the ground and are not swallowed up by the earth's atmosphere, like infrared light or X-rays.

The SKA telescope should be able to pick up even weak signals from radio waves coming from cosmic sources billions of light-years from Earth.

These include signals that occurred in the first hundred million years after the Big Bang.

Burst of energy in milliseconds

Astronomers could use SKA to study gravitational waves and test Einstein's theory of relativity under extreme conditions.

Priority areas of research are also hitherto mysterious rapid radio radiation bursts, so-called radio bursts.

In a fraction of a second, these emit as much energy as the sun does in a whole year.

"As of now, we have no idea what they are," said Shari Breen, SKA's chief scientific officer, of the mysterious radio bursts.

"Hopefully SKA will give us an answer." The cost of the project is estimated at two billion euros.

The first milestone is expected to be reached in 2024, when four satellite dishes in Australia will be interconnected with six antenna stations in South Africa to form a large radio telescope.

So far, eight countries are primarily responsible for SKA: South Africa, Australia, Great Britain, China, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal and Switzerland.

From Germany, the Max Planck Society is involved in the project.


Source: spiegel

All tech articles on 2022-12-05

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