Why Are We Here? Monster New Aussie Telescope Could Answer The Biggest Question
Australia's rugged outback will soon be home to the world's largest telescope, and what it could potentially tell us is mind-bending.
The plans for the massive radio telescope have been finalised after five years in the making, bringing Australia one step closer to being home to the record-breaking structure.
The telescope will give scientists the chance to explore parts of the universe which it was not possible to view before now.
And because it will be located in an area largely free of radio waves, it will crunch more data on the origins of the universe than scientists ever have before.
What Is The SKA?
The Square Kilometre Array (SKA) is an multi-billion dollar collaboration between 12 different counties, led in part by the CSIRO. Two telescopes will be built -- one in Western Australia, and the other in South Africa.
"It is one of the four major international telescopes for the next few decades, and will be key to many of the developments and learnings in astronomy for decades to come -- especially in the areas of the early universe’s evolution," SKA team director Antony Schinckel told 10 daily.
The telescope is the world's largest public science project. It isn't one giant object, but 130,000 low-frequency antennas that will be spread over a distance of 65 kilometres.
This collection of electronics is called an array. It is expected to be hundreds of times faster at mapping the sky than any other similar tools that exist today, and ten times more sensitive.
Construction on the telescope will start on 2020 and will be fully operational by 2026.
Why Was Australia Chosen For The Telescope?
The Murchison region, about 800km north of Perth, is perfect for observing distant space due to its low level of radio frequency.
Both the federal and WA state governments have established a 'radio quiet' zone to protect the site from radio waves and other 'noise' from modern life.
According to the CSIRO, the 'radio quiet' zone is 520 kilometres in diameter, with the use of telecommunications devices heavily restricted. Devices including television transmitters, mobile phones and radios are controlled to limit the amount of electromagnetic interference their signs could have with the telescopes.
"Everything we do -- mobile phones, computers, cars, refrigerators -- all cause radio frequency interference," Schinckel said.
"A mobile phone signal ... can easily swamp these signals from the universe. So its very important that we place the telescopes as far from sources of man-made interference as possible -- and then protect those sites from future interference."
Data from the telescopes will be stored by computers enclosed in specially-designed buildings that prevent electromagnetic waves escaping. The rooms have two layers of metal shielding and airlock doors designed to meet international radio emissions standards.
The radio frequency is so carefully monitored on the site that members of the public cannot visit the area.
What Will The Telescope Do?
The telescope will explore the origins of the universe, examining how stars and galaxies formed more than 13 billion years ago.
The low-frequency environment means more distant and weaker signals can be read from earth. Scientists hope this could provide insight into how, and even why, the universe formed billions of years ago.
It will also bring Australia to the forefront of international space discovery.
"Australia has always punched well above its weight in radio-astronomy," Schinckel said.
"Our intimate engagement in the design of the SKA, and hosting the SKA Low telescope in Australia is further evidence of our expertise and skills."
Schinckel also said team members are excited by the finalisation of infrastructure plans, and look forward to years of work resulting in a world-class telescope that will propel space discovery forward.
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