The SKA is an international effort to build the world’s largest radio telescope, one that listens to space signals with a sensitivity that’s 100 times greater than any current radio telescope on earth.
The project in South Africa just got another big financial boost of USD$5.8 million (R75 million) from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation to advance its mission. The SKA, or Square Kilometre Array project announced the funding Monday, and said it will help allow the radio telescope to expand to 350 dishes.
There are 35 of the 14-meter dishes already in place for building the telescope, known as the Hydrogen Epoch of Reionization Array (HERA). It’s called that because this radio telescope will peer into the earliest era of the universe, when the first stars and galaxies were formed during the period that scientists call the Epoch of Reonization (EoR).
It hears the radio signals emitted by cosmic sources – they sound like the white noise on a television that’s not tuned into a channel – which are then converted into images. For comparison, it is expected to exceed the image resolution quality of the Hubble Space Telescope by a factor of 50 times.
With the new grant, the sensitivity of the array can be increased and potentially detect signals coming from a time before the EoR, believed to be roughly 400 million years after the Big Bang. The array will be able to access a cosmological signal roughly 100,000 times fainter than emissions from the Milky Way and nearby galaxies, scientists said.
Construction on HERA began in 2015, with additional USD $9.5million (R124 million) funding from the U.S. National Science Foundation awarded last September. The location near the MeerKAT radio telescope in South Africa is one of two planned for the SKA project, with the other located in Australia.
In addition to several American universities, South African institutions including Rhodes University, the University of KwaZulu-Natal, the University of the Western Cape and the University of the Witwatersrand are partners on the project.