THE WORLD'S largest telescope will be based at Western Australia's CSIRO's Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory with the project expected to give a much needed boost to the State economy.
Construction of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) to begin next year will consist of 130,000 individual radio antennas and associated electronics built and spread over thousands of square kilometres, about 800 kilometres north of Perth.
Curtin University's International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research professor Steven Tingay told Farm Weekly that after seven years preparations were finally complete for the project, which began in conceptual form in the early nineties.
"By the early 2000s there was a serious search around the world for where the telescope would be built," Mr Tingay said.
"There was internal competition within Australia between a few different regions across the country and WA came out top of the pile."
Mr Tingay said the Mid West was an ideal home for the telescope due to its low population density and remote location.
"The telescope requires a remote location that is radio quiet but has some proximity to infrastructure and population centres," Mr Tingay said.
"The prospectivity of the area is also important, as you don't want to be building a telescope where, in 20 years' time, a mine might be plausibly built.
"There were a lot of practical constraints and when they were all considered the Mid West proved to be the optimal location."
The telescope will work in tandem with an array of 197 dishes in the Karoo, in South Africa, north of Cape Town.
While similar telescopes have been built over the past few decades, Mr Tingay said the radio telescope was the biggest ever conceived and would allow the entire history of the universe to be examined.
"The SKA dials it up to 11 in terms of the number of antennas, which means that it's really, really sensitive and the extent to which they are spread out over the landscape will enable it to make finely detailed images," Mr Tingay said.
"The combination of those two factors means we will be able to detect things that are much weaker than we've previously done and look out to much larger distances,
"This telescope will be used as a time machine that will allow us to look back in time 13 billion years, to when the first stars and galaxies were forming and trace the evolution of the universe to now."
The project is expected to generate a wide range of contracts and jobs in supply and deployment and in the longer term in maintenance, operations and upgrades.
"The contracts will be for everything from building the infrastructure required, so all of the civil works, trenching, power, reticulation, communications and buildings to the 130,000 antennas that are going to be deployed and all of the associated electronics and computing up in the Murchison as well as in Perth," Mr Tingay said.
It's hoped the project will help diversify the State economy following COVID-19, particularly in the Mid West.
"We are already noticing that the pipeline of work for many companies in WA is drying up at a rapid rate of knots," Mr Tingay said.
"So after a decade of working with industry we are really keen to get started on construction so that the work can come their way and we can build the telescope."
The telescope will be built by a global collaboration of 14 countries.
"All Western Australians can be proud that our State is going to be the home to the SKA, one of the biggest science projects in human history," said Science Minister Dave Kelly.
"Since 2009 the WA government has provided funding of $71 million for ICRAR to attract the SKA to WA and maximise benefits for the State through research, job creation, diversification of the economy and innovation," Mr Kelly said.
"Through this investment, WA has become a global hub for radio astronomy."
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