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On Monday, the first phase of construction of one of the most ambitious scientific projects of the 21st century began. The Square Kilometer Array (SKA) will be the largest radio telescope in the world when completed in 2028.
Construction sites are located in Murchison County in Western Australia and in the Karoo in the Northern Cape in South Africa. Project Headquarters and “brains” telescope are located in the UK.
The telescope's initial architecture will include just under 200 parabolic antennas and 131,000 Christmas tree-like dipole antennas.
The goal is to build an efficient a data collection area of hundreds of thousands of square meters. This will give the SKA unsurpassed sensitivity and resolution when sensing targets in the sky.
The system will operate in the frequency range from 50 megahertz to 25 gigahertz. This should allow the telescope to detect very weak radio signals from cosmic sources billions of light-years from Earth, including signals emitted in the first few hundred million years after the Big Bang.
The SKA will conduct the most accurate tests of Einstein's theories and even search for aliens. One of its main tasks will be to trace the full history of hydrogen, the most abundant element in the universe. The telescope should be able to detect the presence of hydrogen before large clouds of hydrogen have collapsed to form the first stars.
The total financial cost to date is just under €500m, with a final construction budget of €2bn .
The base telescope will start operating in 2024, after which the full deployment of the array will be initiated. By 2028, SKA will have an effective data collection area of just under 500,000 square meters. But the structure of the telescope is such that it can continue to grow, increasing its area to one square kilometer.
This could happen if more countries join the project. The current members are: South Africa, Australia, UK, China, Italy, Netherlands, Portugal and Switzerland.
France, Spain and Germany are in the process of joining. Canada, India, Sweden, South Korea and Japan have announced their intention to join in the future.
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