Monday, April 4, 2011

UK building giant radio telescope farm in Cheshire


Jodrell Bank Observatory in Cheshire has been selected as the headquarters for a project to build the world's biggest radio telescope.

An agreement to run the Square Kilometre Array from Jodrell Bank was signed in Rome by Australia, China, the Netherlands, New Zealand, South Africa, France, Germany, Italy, and the UK.

SKA is designed to answer some key questions about the Universe.

Its location is undecided but could be built in Australia or Southern Africa.

The new headquarters at Jodrell Bank will open in January 2012, superseding the existing project office at the University of Manchester.

The observatory has been responsible for some hugely important astronomical discoveries since it was established after the Second World War, but there have been doubts over its future in recent years due to constant funding worries.

Hosting the project office for the Square Kilometre Array could see 60 jobs created there over the next four years.

Scientists hope their structure will reveal new details about "dark energy", the mysterious negative pressure that appears to be pushing the cosmos apart at an ever-increasing speed.

Professor Richard Schilizzi, director SKA, said: "The move to Jodrell Bank Observatory comes at a crucial time as the project grows from a concept to an international mega-science project.

"The new location and facilities will support the significant expansion that is planned."

The Square Kilometre Array takes its name from the size of its collecting area. But instead of a single radio dish 1km across, it will be made up of thousands of smaller ones.

The total collecting area will be approximately one square kilometre giving 50 times the sensitivity, and 10,000 times the survey speed, of the best current-day telescopes, the SKA project said in a statement.

So far, partners from 20 countries are involved in the 1.5bn euros (£1.3bn) project. Construction could begin by 2016, with the telescope expected to be complete by 2024.

It is hoped the array will reveal how planets and galaxies are born, give clues the nature of dark energy and help to detect signs of alien civilisation


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