By Jonah Ruddock
It was announced in early December that construction has begun on phase one of the SKA (Square Kilometer Array) Observatory, an international radio telescope project that strives to peer into the beginning of time. Telescope director Sarah Pearce told Phys.org that the SKAO has aspirations like “charting the birth and death of galaxies, searching for new types of gravitational waves, and expanding the boundaries of what we know about the universe.” It is being hailed as one of the biggest scientific undertakings in history.
Hundreds of thousands of ultra-sensitive antennas will be established in Australia, as well as four large antennas in South Africa, Australian array receiving frequencies between 50 and 350 megahertz and the South African array detecting frequencies between 350 megahertz and and 15.4 gigahertz. Together, they form what is essentially a thousand-kilometer wide “virtual dish” that has immense power and reach. Measuring the exact times at which a signal reaches multiple sensors, a process called interferometry, allows the dish to collect its data. According to Danny Price of the Curtin Institute for Astronomy, the telescopes could “detect a mobile phone in the pocket of an astronaut on Mars, 225 million kilometers away.” Thus, they could potentially pick up the original signature from the Big Bang and the dark ages (the first billion years) of the universe.
Phase one is expected to be completed in 2024.