Dons design dominant telescope

News University News

Professors from Oxford are helping to design the world’s largest and most advanced radio telescope.

The €1.5 billion Square Kilometer Array (SKA) Project is working to build a radio telescope that will have thousands of dishes and millions of linked antennae. Scientists and engineers from Oxford University are involved in the final design team, which includes over three hundred and fifty people from 18 nations and almost one hundred universities.

Construction on the telescope, however, will not begin until 2017.

The SKA radio telescope is unique in that it will be more accurate, powerful and sensitive at detecting radio waves than any other telescope. It will cover a collecting area of one square kilometer, with dishes located in desert regions of Africa and Australia.

The project designers hope the telescope will shed light on important physics and astronomy questions, such as those about dark matter and energy.

Professor Michael Jones, principal investigator of SKA at Oxford, said: “After many years of planning and preparation it is very exciting that the SKA project is now moving in to the detailed design phase. In a few years this amazing scientific instrument will no longer be the stuff of dreams but will start to become a reality.”

This final design phase will be completed in three years, and the first phase of construction is planned for 2017. The large project design has been split into work packages, several of which have Oxford members on them.

The Oxford team is helping to design the electronic systems and low-frequency antennae of the telescope, and Oxford members are also helping prepare for the SKA’s scientific exploitation.

Science students in Oxford were exciting by the venture. Sam Greenbank, a Physics student, said: “It is amazing to be part of a University faculty which is involved in a multinational project such as this, and, hopefully, in the coming years, some of my fellow students will actually be involved directly with this teles cope.

“Having access to such groundbreaking technology and projects is one of the attractions of the Physics faculty here, but it would be even greater if the man or woman to first discover evidence or possibly proof of dark matter was a dark blue. The chances of this are small, but have been made bigger by the involvement in the SKA telescope.”

The telescope is scheduled to be fully operating by 2024.

Holly Meehan, a keen astrophysicist from Keble, commented: “Wow, isn’t science great!

“I just love the thought that I am at a University where these scientists are pushing the very boundaries of human knowledge.  I mean I might be able to meet them and speak to them or, if I’m really lucky, I might one day marry one of them.”