Science

Final leg of WA's space race

DANIEL MURPHY

Within six months, Western Australia is likely to learn if it will be the home to the largest telescope project in the world.

WA Chief Scientist Lyn Beazley is confident that a remote community north of Geraldton will be the chosen location for the world’s largest and most advanced radio telescope.

The Square Kilometer Array is the world’s most ambitious international space project. It will see more than 5000 radio telescopes joined together by fibre optics to monitor distant space.

The receivers will be arranged in five arms extending at least 3000 km, meaning if the project were built in Australia it would stretch all the way across the state.

SPACE RACE

Australia and New Zealand have teamed together and are up against South Africa to host the site.

“We have an absolutely excellent site, there is no better site in the world.” Professor Beazley said.

“It’s up in the Murchison, about three-and-a-half hours drive east of Geraldton, and it is so quiet.

“It’s an area larger than the size of the Netherlands and it has 140 people on it on a very busy day.”

BIG DECISIONS

The project is a joint venture between 67 organisations and 20 countries. China, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and United Kingdom are among the nations to have funded the 2.1 billion dollar project.

A decision on where the SKA will be built is expected in March 2012. Building is scheduled to commence in 2016 and completion slated for 2020.

“By being spread over such a great distance, it gives you a very good eye on the sky.” Professor Beazley said.

Professor Beazley said a major challenge for the project would be how scientists came to grips with analysing, storing and retrieving the incredible amounts of data the telescopes would collect.

The SKA will collect more data in one day than the internet has ever generated since its conception.

Scientists predict it will be operational by 2024.

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