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SKA in a Nutshell

What is the SKA?

The SKA will be the world’s largest radio telescope. More sensitive than any current radio telescope, it will enable scientists to study the Universe in more detail than ever before.

Where will it be built?

The telescope will be located in South Africa and Australia, with the international headquarters located at Jodrell Bank, in the UK. Nearly 200 mid-frequency dishes (including the existing MeerKAT facility which was officially launched in July 2018) will be located in the Karoo region of South Africa. Around 130,000 low-frequency antennas will be located in Western Australia. Both sites are far from sources of radio frequency interference which will allow for very sensitive measurements to be undertaken.

Who is designing it?

There are currently 12 countries which are Core Members (including UK, South Africa, Australia, Italy, Netherlands, China, Sweden, Canada, New Zealand, India, Spain, and France), with more than 100 institutions in around 20 countries involved in the design of the telescope.

When will it be ready?

Construction of the SKA is expected to start sometime in 2020, with early science planned in the mid-2020s. The SKA is currently in the process of becoming an Inter-Governmental Organisation (IGO). The IGO will give the project the appropriate mechanism to govern a multi-national intercontinental mega-project such as the SKA.

How will it work?

The SKA will be made up of 2 instruments, SKA-mid (the dishes) and SKA-low (the antennas). The signals from the dishes will be transported via optical fibre to a central computer where they will be combined using a technique called interferometry. Similarly the signal from all of the antennas will also be combined and converted to scientific data that astronomers will use to study the Universe.

What will the SKA tell us about the Universe?

The SKA will allow scientists to perform transformational science, allowing them to study the early Universe, dark matter and dark energy, cosmic magnetic fields, exoplanets and even searching for life beyond our own planet.

What is the Square Kilometre Array Organisation?

Although the telescope dishes will be located in South Africa and Australia, 12 countries make up the core membership of the project. The SKA Organisation is responsible for co-ordinating the SKA project, including the engineering, science, operations and public outreach. Following current negotiations, a new Intergovernmental Organisation (IGO) will be formed which will be known as the SKA Observatory, which will take the project forward.

Where are the Global Headquarters?

From 2018 the Global Headquarters will be accommodated in a new building on the University of Manchester’s Jodrell Bank site, which is home to the historic Lovell Telescope and which has a long and rich history of radio astronomy. Funded by the UK Government’s Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), The University of Manchester, and Cheshire East Council, the new global headquarters will be home to more than 135 staff from more than 13 countries.

For more information and to follow progress on the site, please visit the SKAO web site.

Why Jodrell Bank?

As well as hosting the SKA Organisation, Jodrell Bank is the home of The University of Manchester’s Jodrell Bank Observatory and Discovery Centre. As part of the Jodrell Bank Centre for Astrophysics, the Observatory operates the Lovell Telescope, the world’s 3rd largest steerable radio telescope, as well as the e-MERLIN radio astronomy national facility. Operated by The University of Manchester on behalf of the STFC, e-MERLIN is an array of 7 radio telescopes spanning 217km across the UK. Both the Lovell Telescope and the Mark II telescope at Jodrell Bank (which is also part of e-MERLIN) have been given listed status.

Last updated: 15 April 2019


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