The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy says Space, is big. Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly hugely mindbogglingly big it is. Douglas Adams was absolutely correct.
The talk on the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) we attended yesterday described the project, the ICT implications of the SKA, CSIRO’s Australian SKA Pathfinder (ASKAP) project that is currently under construction, and the Scientific work done by The International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR).
Galileo’s simple act of turning a hand made telescope to the heavens was a giant leap forward in the history of science and discovery. The next watershed moment is now. The SKA is a mega science project to build a revolutionary radio telescope with global involvement and unprecedented scientific and technical ambition and challenges.
The SKA will be made of thousands of receptors linked together across an area the size of a continent. The total collecting area will be about one square kilometre, giving 50 times the sensitivity and 10,000 times the survey speed of the best current-day radio telescopes. The SKA will be located in either Southern Africa or Australia and New Zealand and the first astronomical observations are planned for 2019.
The SKA radio telescope will be so sensitive it will revolutionise our understanding of the Universe. Its huge collecting area will survey the sky one million times faster than the best present day instruments, at 50 times the sensitivity, providing significant challenges for those in the realm of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT). The quantities of data generated per second by the SKA are ‘mindbogglingly big’; then there’s storage issues, retrieval issues, data transmission issues…… Not to mention the small power station needed to supply the electrical demands of the super-computers. The challenges of this project are simply amazing.
The Australian SKA Pathfinder (ASKAP) is currently under construction to prototype many of the systems needed for the SKA. It will comprise an array of thirty-six antennas, each 12 metres in diameter with a baseline of 5000km stretching from West Australia to New Zealand. The first 6 antenna have been constructed and the target is to erect one-per week for the balance of 2011.
When complete, ASKAP will be one of the world’s leading radio telescopes incorporating next-generation receiver technologies and leading-edge ICT systems.