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Switzerland wants to extend giant radio telescope cooperation

The Aperture Array Verification System 2.0 (AAVS2.0), a prototype demonstrator at the Murchison Radio-astronomy Obervatory in Western Australia. Credit: Michale Goh/ICRAR-Curtin

The Swiss government wants to increase Switzerland’s involvement in the building of the world’s largest-ever radio telescope. The “Square Kilometer Array Observatory” (SKAO) project involves 13 countries and is intended to unravel certain mysteries of the universe.

This content was published on June 4, 2021 - 17:07
swissinfo.ch/sb

The Federal Council has requested parliament to approve CHF24.7 million ($27.4 million) to extend Switzerland’s participation in the SKAO project up to 2030. Last September, parliament approved a budget of CHF8.9 million for Switzerland to join the SKAO.

A Swiss study has showed that “only by becoming a full member [of the SKAO] can Switzerland get a satisfactory return on its investment,” the government said in a statement on Friday.

The Square Kilometre Array Observatory, the most sensitive radio telescope developed so far, is being constructed to research the origin of the very first stars and galaxies. Other areas of research will include the role of cosmic magnetism, the nature of dark matter, life forms in the universe, dark energy and gravitation. The project is expected to cost a total of €1.9 billion.

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

The SKAO, which is managed and funded by the UK, Australia and South Africa, 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 collect unprecedented amounts of data, which will require the world’s fastest supercomputers to process in near real time, before turning these into science projects for distribution among partner countries. 

The Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL), which is a member of the SKAO organisation, is the lead institution coordinating contributions from the Swiss academic community. More than 50 scientists drawn from universities and research hubs across Switzerland are participating in the endeavour.

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

Small and medium-sized enterprises are assisting 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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