Monday 20 November 2017

International telescope to lead search for life on other planets

An artist's impression of the
Square Kilometre Array
radio telescope
An artist's impression of the Square Kilometre Array radio telescope

Nick Collins and Jonathan Pearlman

The world's biggest and most powerful radio telescope will be spread across South Africa, Australia and New Zealand.

The telescope will be used to lead the search for life on other planets.

Members of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA), announced yesterday that the £1.2bn (€1.5bn) radio telescope will probe the greatest mysteries of the Universe.

Representatives from Britain and the seven other states overseeing the project agreed to adopt a "dual site" after failing to decide between competing bids from southern Africa and Australasia.

The SKA will comprise vast clusters of antennas spread across thousands of kilometres, which can be linked together to form a single telescope measuring a million square metres.

Unlike optical telescopes, which gather light through a lens, The SKA will collect radio waves that reach Earth from outer space.

Radio waves have the advantage of being able to travel through the dense clouds of dust which gather in space, meaning radio telescopes can 'see' much further into the oldest regions of the Universe.

The SKA's vast size means it will be able to see 10 times further than existing instruments and be up to 10,000 times more powerful, with the capacity to pick up a mobile phone call from Neptune.

Among its tasks will be to examine the clouds of hydrogen gas that formed in the 'dark ages' of the early Universe after the Big Bang, and from which stars and galaxies were formed.

It could also shed light on mysterious 'dark energy', the force believed to be driving the expansion of the Universe at an ever faster rate, and map every pulsar -- the collapsing cores of exploding stars -- in the galaxy, which would enable scientists to test Einstein's theory of general relativity.

The SKA's 3,000 dishes may even pick up the simplest traces of intelligent life from more distant planets.

Antony Schinckel, from Australia's science agency, CSIRO, said: "We'll be seeing if we can work out where we came from, how life evolved on this planet, and whether it might have evolved somewhere else."

Both South Africa and Australasia are perfectly suited to radio astronomy because they have vast spaces free of interference from mobile phone and television signals.

Australasia's bid was focused on a base at Boolardy Station, 500km north of Perth in Western Australia, while South Africa proposed a hub in the Northern Cape with antennae spread across seven nearby countries. (©Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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