This week, scientists and engineers from Oxford University and around the world will start work on the final designs for the Square Kilometre Array (SKA), soon to become the world's largest and most sensitive radio telescope.
The SKA will cover a combined collecting area equivalent to a dish of about one square kilometre using thousands of dishes and millions of linked antennae spread across Australia and in Southern Africa. It will be able to detect radio waves more accurately and sensitively than ever before, helping to answer some of the biggest questions in physics and astronomy. These include questions about dark matter and dark energy, and perhaps even the biggest question of all: is humanity alone in the universe?
'After many years of planning and preparation it is very exciting that the SKA project is now moving in to the detailed design phase,' said Professor Michael Jones, principal investigator of SKA at Oxford. 'In a few years this amazing scientific instrument will no longer be the stuff of dreams but will start to become a reality.'
The Oxford team will lead the design of electronic systems to digitise and combine signals from millions of low-frequency antennae and allow the telescope to point in multiple directions at once. This will be done in collaboration with the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory along with partners from industry and other universities.
Oxford is also one of the key universities involved in preparation for the scientific exploitation of the SKA, with members on several of the SKA Science Working Groups. They will play a major role in the development of the signal processing systems that will search for pulsars, one of the SKA's key science goals, and in the development of software and high-performance computing systems for the project.