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Science: 

Why the Hubble telescope is a toy

The Hubble Telescope is a toy compared to the Square Kilometer Array

World’s biggest telescope to be built here

A kilometer wide telescope? Surely not.

The Square Kilometer Array will be the most powerful scientific instrument in the world – and cost $2.7 billion. It’s a radio telescope, so very different to infrared and optical rivals such as NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, the successor to Hubble telescope, which will ‘unfold’ a huge mirror in space in 2018 – but will be the most powerful space observatory of the next few decades, according to SKA President Phil Diamond.

 The Square Kilometer Array uses the power of thousands of meerkats 
The Square Kilometer Array uses the power of thousands of meerkats. The antenna pedestals being built in South Africa are known as ‘Meerkats’ – others are being built in Australia, after two decades of wrangling failed to agree on a single site for the enormous telescope.

“The Big Bang meets Big Data” was IBM’s early pitch for the SKA, but it could also help us pinpoint the missing 95% of our universe – by staring into ‘cosmic voids’, where dark energy is supposed to lurk.

Wait, wait, WAIT! Rather than listening for radio transmissions, should we be hunting bigger game – like aliens who move stars?

Well yes, according to Dr Duncan Forgan from Edinburgh’s Royal Observatory, anyway.

Will the SKA offer the power to ‘hear’ other galaxies?

The SKA’s site claims that the 3,000 dishes would be able to ‘hear’ an airport radio signal from 50 light years away – where previous attempts to listen to the night sky might have missed signals, drowned out in the roar of radiation from space. The BBC’s show The Biggest Radio on Earth discusses how the SKA might find intelligent life.

How will we collect the data from the SKA?

The amount of data collected by the telescope will be astronomical – literally – and will require a supercomputer with the power of around 100 million PCs to work, crunching twice as much data as the entire internet, according to IBM’s early projections. The computer will be three times faster than any supercomputer in existence today, according to HPC Wire.

Photo: Gallo Images/Rex

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