The Square Kilometer Array (SKA)
Radio astronomy, the properties and potential discoveries
The Square Kilometer Array (SKA), a project currently in progress, will be the largest radio telescope when it is complete. Being the most expensive radio astronomy project in history, the SKA is a joint mission with contributions from twenty countries, and will be constructed across venues in Western Australia and South Africa. The array will be far more powerful and sensitive than any technology available today, allowing us to gather far more data from space than ever before. Data collecting will begin in 2020 and will be used predominantly to study the origin and development of the Universe. However, we may also uncover new properties of space or planetary bodies that many astronomers could never have imagined, as the SKA will be able to detect extremely faint signals that we have not been able to record to date.
In order to achieve a greater comprehension of the universe, we need to explore far more than just our local neighborhood in space. The way in which we have done this has developed over time, beginning with observing the sky with our own eyes. Nowadays, we use many different data collecting techniques involving telescopes to explore all different frequencies and wavelengths in space. The Square Kilometer Array will utilize radio astronomy, the study of radio waves, by linking thousands of different telescopes (both dishes and antennas) across sites in both Western Australia and South Africa to construct a giant array. Expected to be approximately fifty times more sensitive than today’s best telescopes, and have a survey speed of nearly a million times any telescope today, the SKA will be able to pick up fainter radio waves and gather information about far deeper in space than any other modern mechanism available.
The SKA will allow us to gather data relating to the evolution and formation of the universe after the Big Bang, as the array will be able to detect extremely faint signals from so deep in space, areas of space that are billions of years behind in their development. Furthermore, astronomers hope to grasp a greater understanding of cosmic magnetism, as well as gravity in order to challenge or prove Einstein’s theory of relativity. The sheer power of the SKA is not completely known, and the SKA may lead to discoveries than we can’t even imagine today, as even the firms collaborating in its design and construction cannot predict the exact capabilities of the massive project.
What Is Radio Astronomy?
Whilst the SKA is set to break records, radio astronomy is far from a new concept. Radio astronomy itself is the study of the Universe using telescopes sensitive to radio waves of various frequencies, observing objects in space that emit radio waves themselves. Conducted using radio antennas (telescopes) used either individually, or with multiple linked telescopes utilizing the techniques of radio interferometry, radio astronomy has been a major contributor to Astronomy and Astrophysics since the 1930’s. This technique has been utilized to uncover phenomena including quasars (extremely luminous, galactic nuclei that sit on the edge of our visible universe), pulsars (highly magnetized neutron stars emit electromagnetic radiation), superluminal motion (an apparent faster-that-light motion in radio galaxies) and the cosmic microwave background (thermal radiation that fills the entire universe, a key piece of evidence towards the concept of the Big Bang) – contributing to three Nobel prizes. Perhaps the most appealing aspect of radio astronomy it that it allows us to identify invisible gases and reveal areas of space that are not visible due to large shrouds of dust. This, along with the ability to create an incredibly powerful array in a multitude of...
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