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New radio telescope seeks to discover if we are alone in the universe

How the SKA facility is expected to look when it's finished.
How the SKA facility is expected to look when it’s finished. Department of Industry, Science and Resources

A new facility being built in the Australian Outback could potentially detect alien life in the universe.

Construction work on the world’s largest radio telescope began on Monday some 320 miles north of the western city of Perth.

When the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) is complete, the $2 billion facility will be able to capture the entire observable universe in unprecedented detail, with the more than 130,000 Christmas tree-shaped antennas providing astronomers and scientists with a raft of valuable deep-space data that could unlock some of the secrets of the universe.

The antennas will scan the observable universe for low-range radio frequencies between 50MHz and 350MHz, and will be able to map what it sees 135 times more quickly than existing telescopes.

“The scale of the SKA represents a huge leap forward in both engineering and research and development, towards building and delivering a unique instrument,” the SKA Organization says on its website.

“As one of the largest scientific endeavors in history, the SKA will bring together a wealth of the world’s finest scientists, engineers, and policymakers to bring the project to fruition.”

It added that its unique configuration will give those using the facility “unrivaled scope in observations, largely exceeding the image resolution quality of the Hubble Space Telescope.”

The SKA will operate in conjunction with a similar project in South Africa, which will use around 200 space-facing dishes.

The international effort to build the world’s largest radio telescope has been three decades in the making. The facility will take about six years to construct, with some of the work involving land agreements with local Aboriginal communities.

Scientists and astronomers will be able to start receiving data from the SKA before the building work has finished, so it could start to serve up some fascinating findings in just four years from now.

Professor Alan Duffy, lead scientist of the Royal Institution of Australia, told the Brisbane Times about some of the work the SKA will undertake: “The science goals are as vast as the telescope itself, from searching for forming planets and signs of alien life, to mapping out the cosmic web of dark matter and the growing of galaxies within those vast universe-spanning filaments.”

Meanwhile, SKA official Dr Sarah Pearce offered up a tantalizing detail: “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?”

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