Construction of SKA a.k.a world's biggest telescope begins; We might finally have an answer to 'are we alone?'

Written By: Moohita Kaur Garg | Updated: Dec 05, 2022, 11:12 AM IST

Construction of the world's biggest radio telescope, spanning two continents officially begins today. Let's look at the telescope, and its components and explore why it is a significant breakthrough.

Two continents, one goal

The SKA or Square Kilometre Array will span two continents with remote observatories Western Australia’s Mid West and South Africa’s Karoo region. These observatories will combine to make up one telescope with the collecting area of about one square kilometre.


Lifting the veil

As per Guardian the project has been in development for around three decades now. Hailed as the biggest scientific projects of the country this huge telescope will enable scientists to lift the veil and peer into the past.

The SKA will help researchers to look back to the early history of the universe, to the Big Bang when the first stars and galaxies were formed and will help them investigate dark energy and why the universe is expanding.


The SKA will initially involve two telescope arrays; SKA- Low and SKA-Mid.

The SKA will initially involve two telescope arrays; SKA- Low and SKA-Mid.



SKA-Low will be located in Wajarri country in remote Western Australia and will comprise 131,072 tree-like antennas, which are divided into 512 stations, with 256 antennas per station.

It is named SKA-Low for its sensitivity to low-frequency radio signals; reportedly it will be eight times as sensitive as any of the existing comparable telescopes. it will also be able to map the sky about 135 times faster than any similar pre-existing telescope. Its frequency range will be 50 MHz - 350 MHz.

Institutions in Australia, China, Italy, Malta, the Netherlands and the UK contributed to its design. The SKA Organisation is collaborating with the CSIRO to build and operate the telescopes in Australia.

"The telescope will explore the first billion years, mapping the structure of the early Universe for the first time, watching the births and deaths of the first stars, and helping us to understand how the earliest galaxies formed."

Image courtesy: SKA Australia/Twitter



SKA-Mid will have an array of 197 traditional dishes and the existing MeerKAT radio telescope. It will be  built in South Africa’s Karoo region. Its frequency range will be 350 MHz - 15.4 GHz, with a goal of 24 GHz. 

As per SKA observatory website institutions from China, Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, South Africa, Spain, the United Kingdom and Sweden have contributed to the SKA-Mid design.

"Conducting observations in many exciting areas of science, from timing pulsars and tracking gravitational waves, to searching for the signatures of life elsewhere in the galaxy, SKA-Mid will open up new windows into the Universe."


Defining the next 50 years of radio astronomy

As per SKA-Low director Dr Sarah Pearce, the observatory would “define the next fifty years for radio astronomy, charting the birth and death of galaxies, searching for new types of gravitational waves and expanding the boundaries of what we know about the universe”.

She said, "The SKA telescopes will be sensitive enough to detect an airport radar on a planet circling a star tens of light years away, so may even answer the biggest question of all: are we alone in the universe?”

Image courtesy: SKA Australia/Twitter


Intelligent life in the universe

As per Dr Danny Price, senior postdoctoral fellow at the Curtin Institute of Radio Astronomy, SKA’s sensitivity would allow astronomers to peer back billions of years to the “cosmic dawn”, when the first stars in the universe were forming.

Purring this into perspective, he said that the telescope "could detect a mobile phone in the pocket of an astronaut on Mars, 225m kilometres away."

“More excitingly, if there are intelligent societies on nearby stars with technology similar to ours, the SKA could detect the aggregate ‘leakage’ radiation from their radio and telecommunication networks – the first telescope sensitive enough to achieve this feat.”

Image courtesy: SKA Australia/Twitter