Resources, Western Australia

World’s largest radio telescope takes big step forward in WA’s outback

One of Earth’s biggest science facilities, destined to provide an unparalleled view of the Universe, is today a step closer to reality.

The first of more than 130,000 two-metre-tall, Christmas tree-shaped antennas that will make up the SKA-Low radio telescope were installed today in WA’s Mid West, on Wajarri Country.

It is one of two telescopes, together with SKA-Mid in South Africa, being built by the global radio astronomy organisation the SKA Observatory (SKAO) as part of a world-wide effort to revolutionise our understanding of the Universe.

The SKA-Low telescope will enable scientists to explore the first billion years after the so-called dark ages of the Universe, when the first stars and galaxies formed.

The laying the first antennas at Inyarrimanha Ilgari Bundara, the CSIRO Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory, is a significant day for one of humanity’s biggest-ever scientific endeavours.

Visting for the event, SKAO director general professor Phillip Diamond said, “These telescopes are next-generation instruments, allowing us to test Einstein’s theories and to observe space in more detail than ever before. With this telescope in Australia, we will watch the births and deaths of the first stars and galaxies, giving us invaluable clues about how the Universe evolved.”

The telescopes are expected to help find answers to some of our most compelling scientific questions.

Australia-based SKA-Low Telescope director Dr Sarah Pearce said, “It may not look like other telescopes you’ve seen. But the SKA-Low telescope in Australia will be able to map the sky more than 100 times faster than other state-of-the-art telescopes, and will be so sensitive that it can detect the faintest radio signals that have travelled billions of light years across space.”

Globally, 16 countries – including Australia – are part of the SKAO’s effort to build the SKA telescopes.

In Australia, the SKAO is collaborating with CSIRO, Australia’s national science agency, to build and operate the SKA-Low telescope.

This week marks the start of on-site work for new field technicians who will be tasked with the massive technical challenge of building more than 130,000 antennas across 74 km of the observatory site in the Murchison region.

The group of 10 field technicians, seven of whom are from the Wajarri community, are the first employees hired in technical roles to build the antennas on site.

CSIRO chief executive Dr Doug Hilton said, “The SKA project truly evokes another scientific age of wonder, promising new discoveries that will challenge and enrich our understanding of the Universe itself.”

The observatory site has been established with the support of the Australian and Western Australian governments.

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