A €1.5bn multinational science project to build the world’s largest and most sensitive radio telescope are moving forward apace.
The Square Kilometre Array (SKA) will be capable of answering some of the most fundamental questions about the Universe – including helping to understand dark energy, general relativity in extreme conditions and how the Universe came to the look the way it does now.
The SKA will be an array of radio antennas with a collection area of a square kilometre with its core in South Africa or Australia. Signals from individual antennas will be combined to form one giant telescope.
A decision has been made to locate the project office at The University of Manchester’s Jodrell Bank Observatory.
Professor Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell, prominent radio astronomer and President of the Institute of Physics, said: “Since the 1950s, radio astronomy has provided scientific pioneers with tools to revolutionise our understanding of the Universe. The power of this new telescope project however is going to surpass anything we’ve seen before, enabling us to see many more radio-emitting stars and galaxies and pulling the curtains wide open on parts of the great beyond that radio astronomers like me have only ever dreamt of exploring. The Square Kilometre Array heralds in a post-Einstein era of physics that will help us take huge strides in our attempt to understand the most bizarre objects and the darkest ages of the Universe.”
Minister for Universities and Science, David Willetts, said:”The Square Kilometre Array is a project of global significance. This is evidence of the high reputation of Britain’s management of international science projects. It is great news for Britain and for Jodrell Bank and Manchester University in particular.”
The SKA has been agreed as a top priority project for astronomy both in the UK and across Europe. It is a very significant step that partners have started the process to fund and create a legal structure for the SKA. The UK, through the Science and Technology Facilities Council, is expecting to invest of the order of 15 Million pounds in the next phase of the SKA.
In addition to the immense scientific progress that will be made by the SKA, the project is expected to have wider benefits in continuing its already impressive involvement with industrial partners and continuing the inspiration of the public through astronomy, as Jodrell Bank has for many years.
The SKA project will drive technology development in antennas, signal transport, signal processing, and software and computing. Spin off innovations in these areas will benefit other systems that process large volumes of data. The design, construction and operation of the SKA has the potential to impact skills development in science, engineering and in associated industries not only in the host countries but in all project partners.