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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 13 countries which are Core Members (including UK, South Africa, Australia, Italy, Germany, 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 is expected to start in 2021

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, 13 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. The UK is one of seven founding countries  that along with Australia, China, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal and South Africa signed the text of the SKA Observatory Convention  on 12 March 2019, which will lead to the creation of an intergovernmental organisation (IGO) established through international treaty, similar to CERN and the European Space Agency. The intergovernmental organisation (IGO) will oversee the delivery of the SKA.

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?

The Jodrell Bank site was granted UNESCO World Heritage status in July 2019, celebrating its outstanding contribution to the development of radio astronomy globally, including the role played by the 76m Lovell Telescope, once the world’s largest single dish radio telescope. Fittingly, the world’s future largest radio telescope, the SKA, is being led by an international collaboration from the same site.

Last updated: 20 November 2019

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