Australia switches on radio telescope

2012-10-05 10:32
Radio telescope dishes stand on the site of the MeerKAT near Carnarvon in the Northern Cape. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

Radio telescope dishes stand on the site of the MeerKAT near Carnarvon in the Northern Cape. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

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Sydney - Australia switched on its biggest radio telescope on Friday, preparing the way for the mammoth Square Kilometre Array that will be shared with SA and New Zealand.

The 36 12m dishes that began operating at Murchison, 700km north of Perth, cost A$140m ($144m) to build and are a stepping stone to the $2bn international project.

The 36 dishes are linked into what is called the Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder (Askap).

"It's been several long years of design and construction but Askap is open for business," Megan Clark, the head of the government's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, said in a statement.

"Researchers from around the world are already lining up to use the facility with 10 Askap science survey teams, totalling more than 700 astronomers, ready and waiting."

Unique details

The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation's Askap director Brian Boyle said studying the radio waves would tell astronomers unique details about the cosmos.

"They can tell about the gas from which stars were formed and about exotic objects - pulsars and quasars - that really push the boundaries of our knowledge of the physical laws in the universe," he said.

"Radio astronomy also gives us an insight into the very beginnings of the universe."

Australian Science Minister Chris Evans said the telescope was a major step forward for innovation in Australia.

"This will be 50 years worth of scientific research performed in Australia, providing world-leading scientific knowledge about our galaxies," he said.

"It will be the world's most powerful radio astronomy telescope and has huge capabilities way beyond anything that currently exists," Evans told ABC radio.

The search for extraterrestrial life was a secondary objective.

"It's almost a parallel activity to all the survey work that's being done," Boyle told reporters.

- SAPA
Read more on:    ska  |  astronomy
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