After decades of planning, construction on the Square Kilometre Array (SKA), the world's largest radio-astronomy observatory, officially begins today, The Guardian reported. The Square Kilometre Array will be split between remote observatories in Western Australia's Mid-West and South Africa's Karoo region, combining to produce a telescope with a collecting area of about one square kilometre.
Ceremonies will occur today on both Australian and South African sites to 'break ground' and astronomers and local communities are expected to travel to both remote sites to celebrate the milestone with officials from the SKA Observatory (SKAO).
While the Australian site, also known as SKA-Low will comprise over 130,000 Christmas tree-like antennas, the African site known as SKA-Mid will comprise the second array of 197 traditional dishes. SKA-Low will detect frequencies between 50 megahertz and 350 megahertz and SKA-Mid will pick up frequencies between 350 megahertz and 15.4 gigahertz.
Hailed as one of the biggest scientific projects of this century, the telescopes will enable scientists to look back to early in the history of the universe when the first stars and galaxies were formed. It will also be used to investigate dark energy and why the universe is expanding, and to potentially search for extraterrestrial life.
"The Square Kilometre Array is a game-changer, not just for radio astronomy but for our collective understanding of the Universe. After many years of planning and designing it is incredibly exciting that construction has begun.," Professor Tara Murphy, Head of the School of Physics at the University of Sydney told CosmoMagazine.
SKA-Low telescope director Dr Sarah Pearce said the project would define the next 50 years of radio astronomy. She told The Guardian, ''the observatory would define the next fifty years for radio astronomy, charting the birth and death of galaxies, searching for new types of gravitational waves and expanding the boundaries of what we know about the universe".
She added: "The SKA telescopes will be sensitive enough to detect an airport radar on a planet circling a star tens of light years away, so may even answer the biggest question of all: are we alone in the universe?"
Notably, South Africa and Australia were shortlisted to host the telescope in 2006, before a decision was made to split the project between the two in 2012.