Meet SKA: The 3,000 Mile Long Super-Telescope

SKA Telescope Logo

The SKA Logo

The Square Kilometer Array (SKA) will be the world’s largest and most sensitive radio telescope when it is completed.

Using Interferometry, which is the linking together of radio telescopes to create a larger virtual telescope known as an Interferometer, the SKA will combine thousands of linked radio wave receptors that will be located in Australia and Southern Africa. Ten countries across these two continents will share the location of this mind-boggling project.


SKA Telescope 3000 Miles Long

Artists Impression of the antennas. The SKA will be the world’s largest interferometer.

Check out the size compared to…. an SUV in the picture below:

SKA Telescope 3000 Miles Long

SKA Telescope in Comparison to an SUV

 Is Science-Fiction turning into reality?

Below is a 100 Meter Radio Telescope already in use on our planet:

SKA Telescope

The SKA Telescope will be ONE THOUSAND times as big as this one!

An obvious question for the developers was “What will the layout be?”

Here is what they decided on:

SKA Telescope Layout

It will comprise thousands of radio wave receptors (antennas) and will extend out to distances of 3,000 km from a central core region. Roughly the distance from New York to California.

The layout reminds me of the “Pinwheel Galaxy” pictured below:

pinwheel galaxy

A Pinwheel Galaxy

A rather Divine design, no?

Perfectly imperfect..

The concept for this project was established over 20 years ago in 1991. It wasn’t until 2006 that the SKA Organization was provided with a short listing of suitable sites for this extra-large project.  In 2012, a decision was made on the construction site.

This thing is being built.

And yes, this is real life. I think..

SKA Telescope

Fully zoomed out – A simulation map of SKA sensitivity when looking at the sky directly overhead. The map is based on the position of receptors on the ground and a specific radio wave frequency. Red indicates highest sensitivity.

What kind of discoveries and images will the super-sensitive, dark red area in the above picture produce? The SKA will be 50 times more sensitive, and will survey the sky 10,000 times faster, than any other telescope. For now, all we can do is use our imagination.

 “Reality leaves a lot to the imagination.”– John Lennon

Why are they building it?

  The SKA will address fundamental unanswered questions about our Universe including but not limited to:

  • how the first stars and galaxies formed after the Big Bang
  • how galaxies have evolved since then
  • the role of magnetism in the cosmos
  • the nature of gravity
  • the search for life beyond Earth

The SKA will address a wide range of fundamental questions in physics, astrophysics, cosmology and astrobiology. It will also be able to investigate previously unexplored parts of the distant Universe. ”

Now, I couldn’t help but to think:

1. The SKA Organization is saying we have fundamental unanswered questions about our Universe. Isn’t that a rather enlightening statement? Basically, if you think you have “Reality” figured out, they feel really bad for you.

2. The search for life beyond Earth is in full effect. You may not think so but they’re putting money where their mouth is, with this project costing over $1.5 billion Euros.

By the way, It’s an international partnership involving 67 organizations in 20 countries, running as a not-for-profit.

SKA Telescope dishes overview

The SKA Telescope structure will span over 3,000 miles!

Life is good.

What will the SKA do?

Radio telescopes detect radio-frequency signals from space. They provide alternative views of the Universe than those seen with optical telescopes and can reveal areas that are obscured with cosmic dust.

  • The SKA will look back up to the Dark Ages, a time before the Universe lit up, to discover how the earliest black holes and stars were formed.
  • The SKA will be able to detect very weak extraterrestrial signals and will search for complex molecules, the building blocks of life, in space.
  • The SKA will investigate the nature of gravity and challenge the theory of general relativity.
  • The SKA will create three-dimensional maps of cosmic magnets to understand how they stabilize galaxies, influence the formation of stars and planets, and regulate solar and stellar activity.
  • The SKA will investigate the expansion after the Big Bang by mapping the cosmic distribution of hydrogen. This map will track young galaxies and help identify the nature of dark energy.

 “The unique sensitivity and versatility of the SKA will make it a discovery machine. Who knows what else it could discover?” – SKA Organisation

 A few stunning facts and figures provided by the organization below.

  • The data collected by the SKA in a single day would take nearly two million years to playback on an iPod.
  • The SKA central computer will have the processing power of about one hundred million PCs.
  • The aperture arrays in the SKA could produce more than 100 times the global internet traffic.
  • The SKA will generate enough raw data to fill 15 million 64 GB iPods every day!
  • The SKA supercomputer will perform 10^18 operations per second – equivalent to the number of stars in three million Milky Way galaxies – in order to process all the data that the SKA will produce.
  • The SKA will be so sensitive that it will be able to detect an airport radar on a planet 50 light years away.

Are you a part of something so unfathomably-large, mysterious, and yet seemingly perfect? Maybe it’s just me..

The aim of SKA outreach is to raise awareness of the scientific objectives and progress of the SKA telescope project among scientists, policy makers and the general public. If you find this as interesting as I do, feel free to share and spread the reality of this rather surreal project.

SKA telescope banner



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