Work under way on world's largest radio astronomy observatory

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Work under way on world's largest radio astronomy observatory

The work is finally underway on the world's largest radio astronomy observatory.

The Square Kilometre Array is a large telescope that consists of huge clusters of dishes and antennas spread across remote parts of South Africa and Western Australia. The construction of the observatory began on Monday after three decades of planning.

One of the biggest scientific projects of the 21st century is the Square Kilometre Array. The ultra-sensitive instrument will be used to probe some of the most baffling cosmic mysteries, from dark matter, dark energy and how galaxies formed to the origin of short but intense pulses of radio emissions known as fast radio bursts.

Catherine Cesarsky, chair of the Square Kilometre Array Board of Directors, said the observatory has been in the making for many years. Today, we gather here to mark another important chapter in this 30 year journey that we have been on together. She said it was a journey to deliver the world's largest scientific instrument.

The observatory is made up of two arrays: the SKA-Low in Western Australia, located on the traditional lands of the Wajarri people, and the SKA-Mid, built in Karoo in the Northern Cape of South Africa.

The facility in Australia is made up of more than 131,000 tree-shaped antennas, each of which are about 6.5 feet tall. Together they will be sensitive enough to pick up some of the faintest signals in the universe -- low-frequency radio waves between 50 megahertz and 350 megahertz.

The SKA-Low will be eight times more sensitive, have a 25% better resolution and be able to survey the sky 135 times faster than similar telescopes that exist now, according to the project s scientists.

The South African component will consist of nearly 200 dishes, expanded from the 64-inch MeerKAT telescope that already exists on the site. These will be capable of operating in the mid-frequency range from 350 megahertz to 15.4 gigahertz.

The SKA-Mid in South Africa will operate with four times the resolution and five times the sensitivity, and will be able to survey the sky 60 times faster, according to the project s scientists.

The construction of the $2 billion observatory is expected to continue through 2028, though parts of the arrays could be operational as early as 2024.