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Australia unveils colossal telescope

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unprecedented precision:Some of the antennae of the Australian SKA Pathfinder telescope in the Western Australian desert.— Photo: AFP/CSIRO/DRAGONFLY MEDIA
unprecedented precision:Some of the antennae of the Australian SKA Pathfinder telescope in the Western Australian desert.— Photo: AFP/CSIRO/DRAGONFLY MEDIA

Australia on Friday unveiled a colossal radio telescope that will allow astronomers to detect distant galaxies and explore the depths of the universe with unprecedented precision.

The Australian SKA Pathfinder telescope, at the remote Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory in the Western Australian desert, is made up of 36 antennas, each 12 metres in diameter.

The Aus$140 million ($140 million) facility can survey the sky much faster than existing telescopes, with the antennae sensitive to faint radiation from the Milky Way, giving it the ability to detect distant galaxies.

The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation’s ASKAP director Brian Boyle said studying the radio waves would tell astronomers unique details about the cosmos.

“They can tell about the gas from which stars were formed and about exotic objects — pulsars and quasars — that really push the boundaries of our knowledge of the physical laws in the universe,” he said.

“Radio-astronomy also gives us an insight into the very beginnings of the universe.”

The telescope is part of Australia’s contribution to the broader $2.5-billion SKA project, jointly hosted with South Africa and New Zealand, which will have far greater capabilities.

That project will use a forest of antennae, spread across remote terrain, to pick up radio signals from cosmic phenomena that cannot be detected by optical telescopes.

It will be 50 times more powerful than current radio telescopes and will explore exploding stars, black holes, dark energy and traces of the universe’s origins some 14 billion years ago. — AFP

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