Switzerland set to join efforts to build giant radio telescope

The SKA will capture light of celestial objects at radio waves, similar to the light used by our smartphones to communicate together. © SKA Organisation

Switzerland is looking to participate in the construction of the largest radio telescope ever built.  Called “Square Kilometer Array” (SKA), the project involves thirteen countries and is intended to unravel certain mysteries of the universe.

This content was published on April 20, 2020 - 14:24

This giant telescope is one of the “most ambitious scientific tools of the 21st century”, according to a statement from the Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL), which just became a member of the SKA organisation and will be the lead institution coordinating contributions from the Swiss academic community.

The SKA is designed to detect radio waves emanating from celestial objects, the same type of emissions used for example by smartphones. It is thus distinguished from most telescopes which are based on detecting visible light.

The telescope will be built in the coming years on two sites. South Africa will raise 130 antennas of a diameter of 15 meters, while 130,000 TV-style antennas will be erected in Australia.

“his new high-performance radio telescope will open a new view of the whole universe”,,” said Jean-Paul Kneib, director of the Astrophysics Laboratory at EPFL, in a press releaseExternal link.

“SKA will detect the formation of planetary system around distant stars, the cold Hydrogen gas around galaxies, the nuclei of distant galaxies harbouring an active super-massive blackholes”,” he added.

Unprecedented data

The SKA organizing committee, of which EPFL is now a member, must oversee the design of the telescope until the transition to an international observatory is completed. This should take place during 2020.

The telescope will collect unprecedented amounts of data, requiring the world’s fastest supercomputers to process this data in near real time, before turning these into science projects for distribution among partner countries. 

More than 50 scientists drawn from universities and research hubs across Switzerland are participating in the endeavor, according to EPFLExternal link.

Swiss academic institutions are expected to help through research and development in the field of distributed high-performance computing (HPC), machine learning and artificial intelligence.

Small and medium-sized enterprises are expected to chip in with data processing, system control and supervision, antennas and radio receivers, in addition to precise time management through the use of maser atomic clocks.

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