With 3,000 receptors sprawling over a 3,000-kilometre radius, the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) telescope is set to eclipse any telescope we have today. And although this eye on the sky might be the future of astronomy, it’s aiming to give us a glimpse of the past — perhaps even of the birth of the universe.
More than 20 nations, including Canada, are involved in planning and designing the SKA, the world’s largest and most sensitive radio telescope. It will be built in and operated jointly by South Africa and Australia. Construction, budgeted at about 1.5 million Euros (Cdn$1.93 million), will begin in 2016. The SKA is expected to be fully operational by 2024.
Unlike the Hubble Space Telescope, which mostly processes visible light, the SKA will be able to pick up radio signals from before stars even existed, painting a picture of what the universe looked like about 300,000 years after the Big Bang.
Russ Taylor, a professor in the department of physics and astronomy at the University of Calgary and chairman of the Canadian SKA Consortium Board, says the project’s impact on the country will be twofold: Canadian scientists will have the opportunity to participate in what he calls “the largest mega-science project that Canada has ever been a part of”; and Canadian companies will be given a chance to develop the new and innovative technologies necessary for construction and operation of the SKA.
Considering its scope, the SKA should have a significant impact on the scientific world. “It’s what you call a global megascience project,” says Taylor. “It’s on the same scale as the Large Hadron Collider.”