Square Kilometre Array (SKA)

The SKA will be the world's largest radio telescope. It is not 1 dish, but thousands of radio antennas which all work together. The SKA is being built in Australia, and South Africa. The headquarters are at Jodrell Bank Observatory in the UK. Phase 1 of the project should be complete by the end of 2024.

Artist's impression of the central core of antennas of the SKA
Credit: SKA

The SKA will be 50 times more sensitive than any other radio telescope. It will survey the sky 10,000 times faster than ever before. The SKA will be used to answer big questions in science like:

The SKA stands for Square Kilometre Array. The idea was to have a radio telescope with a collecting area 1 km2. A radio telescope is an antenna and radio receiver contained in a large dish. It can look a bit like a satellite TV dish. It is not possible to build a radio dish 1 km wide, it would weight too much and collapse. So the SKA will use interferometry. It will have a network of antennas, spread over thousands of kilometres. The radio waves collected by all the antennas will be combined to make a bigger signal. So the SKA will work like a huge radio dish. 

Light pollution is not an issue for radio astronomy. This type of telescope can be used in the daytime as well as at night. However, any electronic devices can cause a problem. They give off radio waves which interfere with radio telescopes. This is why the SKA is being built in a very rural and remote location, far away from cities and towns.

Building such a large and complex telescope in a remote location is a huge challenge for engineers. Over 100 institutions and companies have worked together on the project. The SKA is also a challenge for computer scientists. It will collect an enormous amount of data. Companies like IBM and Intel have worked with the SKA to create new technology which can handle all the data.