Manchester Uni wins radio telescope HQ

From Sputnik to the future of space science

The University of Manchester's Jodrell Bank Centre for Astrophysics has been chosen as the headquarters for the next generation radio telescope, the Square Kilometre Array (SKA).

The SKA project, with a budget of €1.5bn, involves astronomers and engineers in 17 countries. It will be comprised of thousands of small antennae deployed over an area of thousands of kilometres, making the name somewhat misleading.

The 'scope will take in the sights of the universe, helping astronomers to explore dark energy, peer into the dim past of the universe and see the earliest stars and galaxies. It will provide a test bed for Einstein's theories, and for astronomers wanting to study the evolution of the universe and the life therein.

The university issued a statement detailing the plan of action for the new array. The scope will also study pulsars, to look for the effects of gravitational waves produced by merging blackholes; it will map the magnetic fields of distant and ancient galaxies.

"If there are extra-terrestrial intelligences out there in the Milky Way with transmitters similar to our own airport or ionospheric radars, the SKA will detect them," it said.

"This powerful new telescope will greatly extend our knowledge of the universe," explained Professor Richard Schilizzi, international SKA director. "Not only will it improve our understanding of objects ranging from black holes to the earliest stars and galaxies, but it is also bound to discover as yet unknown phenomena."

The announcement coincides with the 50th anniversary of the launch of Sputnik, and the 50th anniversary of the completion of the Giant Radio Telescope at Lovell. It is especially fitting since the first task the Lovell scope undertook was to track Sputnik's delivering rocket as it powered the first satellite into space. ®

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