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South africa, australia to share world's largest telescope - China Decorative Glass Plates by grass lawn

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South africa, australia to share world's largest telescope - China Decorative Glass Plates by
Article Posted: 07/09/2013
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South africa, australia to share world's largest telescope - China Decorative Glass Plates

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South Africa and Australia will jointly host the Square Kilometre Array , which promises to be the world's largest telescope, theinternational consortium in charge of the project said Friday. The Square Kilometre Array, or SKA, is a $2-billion US radiotelescope that is set to go into construction in 2016 and should becompleted by 2024. It aims to survey the sky with the help of 3,000 parabolicantennas, or dishes, and aperture arrays, a type of stationaryantenna that detects mid- and low-frequency radio waves, spreadacross thousands of kilometres in several countries. Combined, the radio signal-capturing capacity of all the SKAantennas will be equivalent to one giant telescope with a dish thathas an area of one square kilometre hence the telescope's name.

The antennas will be arranged in spiral arms extending from acentral core to at least 3,000 kilometres away. Optical fibres will transport the signals received by the antennasto a central supercomputer, and the data received will be processedand shared around the world. An artist's rendition of the kind of low-frequency aperture arraysthat will be part of the SKA telescope. Along with thousands ofparabolic antennas, such arrays will be used to detect radiosignals from as far as 50 light years away. (SKA Organisation/TDP/DRAO/Swinburne Astronomy Productions) The giant telescope will be 50 times more sensitive and scan thesky 10,000 times faster than any existing telescope.

It will bepowerful enough to detect airport-type radar on a planet 50 lightyears away and will aim to answer some of the most fundamentalquestions about the universe. "Where do we come from? Where are we going? What is this universewe live in?" said John Womersley, chair of the board of directorsof the SKA Organization, when describing the kinds of questionsastronomers will be asking. "We don't understand what 96 per centof our universe is made of." An advisory committee to the SKA Organization, which includesrepresentatives of Canada and seven other countries, had previously recommended South Africa as the sole site to host the telescope, but onFriday, the consortium announced in Amsterdam that it had settledon a dual site. The plan to jointly operate the telescope will see Australia focuson surveying large portions of the sky quickly while South Africa,which will have the majority of telescope dishes, concentrates onobserving small sections of the sky in greater detail.

"This model for splitting the SKA closely follows the workings ofother observatories around the world; often separate instrumentswill survey the sky and inform where another telescope should lookcloser," said Peter Quinn, the director of the International Centerfor Radio Astronomy Research, a joint venture of Curtin Universityand the University of Western Australia, both located in Perth,Australia. Fierce competition The shared operation of the telescope will add about 10 per cent tothe cost of construction but will expand the telescope'scapabilities. South Africa has been in fierce competition with Australia for theSKA since 2005. South Africa led a consortium of African countries, includingBotswana, Ghana and Kenya, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique,Namibia and Zambia, some of whom will also host parts of thetelescope, while Australia's bid was submitted jointly with NewZealand.

On Friday, both sides claimed victory. "We may feel slightly disappointed that we didn't get the wholething, but I think one should emphasize that we did get most ofit," said Justin Jonas, the chief South African scientist on theproject. "Two-thirds of the biggest instrument in the world isstill the biggest instrument in the world." Quinn, meanwhile, said Australia's portion of the project plays tothe country's strengths. "Placing a major part of the SKA here shows internationalrecognition of Australia's strength in radio astronomy and thehigh-quality radio-quiet site Australia has developed in WesternAustralia's midwest," he said.

Radio telescopes are different than optical telescopes because theydetect radio-frequency signals, not light, from space. The canreveal sections of space not accessible to an optical telescopebecause of obstructions like cosmic dust. With files from The Associated Press.

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