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Science & Technology

Square Kilometre Array Telescope

  • 06 Feb 2021
  • 5 min read

Why in News

Recently, the Square Kilometre Array Observatory (SKAO) Council held its inaugural meeting and approved the establishment of the world’s largest radio telescope.

  • The new venture is being deemed as important following the collapse of one of the most prolific radio telescopes in the world, the Arecibo in Puerto Rico, in December last year.
  • SKAO is a new intergovernmental organisation dedicated to radio astronomy and is headquartered in the UK.
    • At the moment, organisations from ten countries are a part of the SKAO.
    • These include Australia, Canada, China, India, Italy, New Zealand, South Africa, Sweden, the Netherlands and the UK.

Key Points

  • Radio Telescopes:
    • Radio telescope, astronomical instrument consisting of a radio receiver and an antenna system that is used to detect radio-frequency radiation between wavelengths of about 10 metres (30 megahertz [MHz]) and 1 mm (300 gigahertz [GHz]) emitted by extraterrestrial sources, such as stars, galaxies, and quasars.
    • Unlike optical telescopes, radio telescopes can detect invisible gas and, therefore, they can reveal areas of space that may be obscured by cosmic dust.
      • Cosmic dust consists of tiny particles of solid material floating around in the space between the stars.
    • Since the first radio signals were detected in the 1930s, astronomers have used radio telescopes to detect radio waves emitted by different objects in the universe and explore it.
    • According to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the field of radio astronomy evolved after World War II and became one of the most important tools for making astronomical observations.
  • The Arecibo Telescope:
    • The Arecibo telescope in Puerto Rico, which was the second-largest single-dish radio telescope in the world, collapsed in December 2020.
      • China’s Sky Eye is the world's largest single-dish radio telescope.
    • The telescope was built in 1963.
    • Because of its powerful radar, scientists employed it to observe planets, asteroids and the ionosphere, making several discoveries over the decades, including finding prebiotic molecules in distant galaxies, the first exoplanets, and the first-millisecond pulsar.
  • Square Kilometer Array (SKA) Telescope:
    • Location:
      • The telescope, proposed to be the largest radio telescope in the world, will be located in Africa and Australia.
    • Development:
      • The development of SKA will use the results of various surveys undertaken using another powerful telescope called the Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder (ASKAP).
        • ASKAP is developed and operated by the Australia’s science agency Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO).
        • This telescope, which has been fully operational since February 2019 mapped over three million galaxies in a record 300 hours during its first all-sky survey conducted late last year.
        • ASKAP surveys are designed to map the structure and evolution of the Universe, which it does by observing galaxies and the hydrogen gas that they contain.
    • Maintenance:
      • Its operation, maintenance and construction will be overseen by SKAO.
    • Cost and Completion:
      • The completion is expected to take nearly a decade at a cost of over 1.8 billion pounds.
    • Significance:
      • Some of the questions that scientists hope to address using this telescope:
        • The beginning of the universe.
        • How and when the first stars were born.
        • The life-cycle of a galaxy.
        • Exploring the possibility of detecting technologically-active civilisations elsewhere in our galaxy.
        • Understanding where gravitational waves come from.
    • Function:
      • As per NASA, the telescope will accomplish its scientific goals by measuring neutral hydrogen over cosmic time, accurately timing the signals from pulsars in the Milky Way, and detecting millions of galaxies out to high redshifts.


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