Saturday, May 26, 2012

Most powerful telescope in human history

Super-telescope built from 3,000 dishes across three countries
The world's biggest and most advanced radio telescope, capable of detecting signs of extraterrestrial life in the far reaches of the universe, will be located in South Africa, Australia and New Zealand.
The decision to split the location of the $2 billion ‘Square Kilometre Array’ followed an intense battle between the bidders - South Africa one side and a joint bid from Australia and New Zealand on the other.
Scanning the sky 10,000 times faster and with 50 times the sensitivity of any other telescope, it will be used to study the origins of the universe and will be able to detect weak signals that could indicate the presence of extraterrestrial life.

Scientists leading the project rejected the suggestion that the decision, which will mean higher costs, meant science had taken a back seat to political expediency.

‘We were all aware of the political dimensions of this,’ said Jon Womersley, Chair of the Board of Directors of the SKA organisation, but he added: ‘It's a scientifically motivated way forward.’

There is already infrastructure in South Africa and Australia, including radio telescope dishes that were built as precursors to the new array. They will now be incorporated into the SKA.

The consortium estimates that the decision to split the project will add about 10 percent to the 350 million euro ($440 million) budget for the first phase of construction.

When completed in 2024 the telescope will be made up of 3,000 dishes, each 15 metres wide, together with many more antennae, that together will give a receiver surface area of a square kilometre.

‘This hugely important step for the project allows us to progress the design and prepare for the construction phase of the telescope,’ said Michiel van Haarlem, Director General of the consortium.

‘The SKA will transform our view of the universe; with it we will see back to the moments after the Big Bang and discover previously unexplored parts of the cosmos.’
To process the data coming back from the Square Kilometre Array, IBM is designing a computer which will digest twice as much information every day as the entire internet, sifting through radio waves from space in an effort to unravel the origin of the universe.

The machine will be attached to a 1,900 square mile array of telescope antenna, and will be built to 'suck in' in radio telescope data which will 'see' 13 billion years into the past, back to the dawn of the universe and the Big Bang.

The machine will be millions of times more powerful than the fastest PCs today - and will deal with 100 times more information than the output of the Large Hadron Collider.
[Read the full report at dailymail ]

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