Square Kilometre Array Observatory construction commences
After thirty years of development, the Square Kilometre Array Observatory (SKAO) announced Monday it has commenced construction of its radio telescopes in both South Africa and Australia.
“After 18 months of global procurement and construction activities around the world, on 5 December 2022 the SKAO enters a new era by officially marking the start of SKA construction at the telescope sites in Australia and South Africa!” enthuses SKAO’s description of a video showing off its work.
The radio telescope will survey the sky with previously unheard-of sensitivity, looking for clues to questions ranging from dark matter to how galaxies form.
“It’s the chance to be able to see the very first stars in the universe and when those turned on,” astrophysicist, radio astronomer and professor at Asutralian National University, Naomi McClure-Griffiths, said in a video tweeted by the Australian Academy of Science.
#BREAKING: The Australian arm of the world’s largest radio telescope observatory, the SKA-Low telescope, is about to take shape on Wajarri Yamaji Country in remote Western Australia. #SKA @sciencegovau @CSIRO @SKAO @ICRAR Watch: https://t.co/H1xNQKiwVE
— Australian Academy of Science (@Science_Academy) December 4, 2022
South Africa’s Karoo region in the Northern Cape and Murchison Shire in Western Australia were chosen to house the equipment, because both are nicely remote and therefore aren’t polluted by stray radio signals. That makes them optimal positions for viewing the Milky Way. They were also chosen for their plentiful wide open spaces and the likelihood that harsh local conditions mean not many wandering mobile phones will mess things up.
Karoo will house the SKA-Mid detecting frequencies between 350 megahertz and 15.4 gigahertz, while in Australia the SKA-Low will pick up frequencies between 50 and 350 megahertz.
The project’s site in Australia will sit on Indigenous land, thanks to an agreement with native title holders, the Wajarri Yamaji people.
According to SKAO operations partner, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), the SKA-Low will spread across 74km end-to-end, alongside existing instruments like its 36-antenna precursor, the Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder (ASKAP).
The project in total will consist of 3,000 15-meter dishes and thousands of low-frequency aperture array telescopes for a total of more than 130,000 antennas. The low-frequency scopes resemble two-meter tall metal Christmas trees. Luckily, the SKAO has a sense of humor over the coincidence.
Good morning Australia 🇦🇺👋 Nice festive lighting! We heard you’re tempted to put a bauble on one of our SKA-Low antennas… how’s this?🎄 pic.twitter.com/j5zPx74nd2
— SKA Observatory (@SKAO) December 4, 2022
While the system’s physical scale is unprecedented, so is the amount of data it will collect – a whopping 130 petabytes is expected to be ingested each year.
The first phase of the project – including those 130,000 antennas – is slated for completion in 2028. But by 2024, four dishes in Australia and six antenna stations in South Africa should be already working together and proving that the system is ready for its comprehensive rollout.
Current members of the SKAO include South Africa, Australia, the UK, China, Italy, Netherlands, Portugal and Switzerland. Most have sent delegations to Australia and South Africa to celebrate today’s ground breaking ceremonies. ®