10 amazing facts about the world’s largest radio telescope

SKA dishes when fully operational will produce 10 times the global internet traffic as of 2013

The massive effort that will ultimately bring together the world largest radio telescope got a little more focused this week.  The organization running the venture picked some three hundred and fifty scientists and engineers, representing 18 nations and drawn from nearly one hundred institutions, universities and industry to complete the design phase of the Square Kilometer Array (SKA) Project.

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The SKA telescope will include 3,000 dish-shaped antennae and other hybrid receiving technologies dishes spread over a collecting area of about 3,000 kilometers, making it 50--100 times more sensitive than today's best radio telescopes and cover the frequencies 0.15 to 30 GHz (2 m to 1 cm wavelength).

The $2 billion SKA project once operational, will be used to address some of "humankind's greatest questions, such as our understanding of gravity, the nature of dark energy, the very formation of the Universe and whether or not life exists elsewhere," the group says.

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The announcement this week included the formation of an array of groups that will oversee various key development areas of the SKA.  For example, The Dish Consortium, led by Dr. Mark McKinnon of Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization in Australia will oversee all activities necessary to prepare for the procurement of the SKA dishes, including local monitoring & control of the individual dish in pointing and other functionality, their feeds, necessary electronics and local infrastructure. DSH includes planning for manufacturing of all components, the shipment and installation on site of each dish and the acceptance testing.  Other groups like the he Low Frequency Aperture Array Consortium will manage the development of antennas, on board amplifiers and local processing required for the Aperture Array telescope of the SKA.

As SKA development continues, its developers put up a list of the radio telescope's "most amazing" facts as they see them.  The amazing facts list looks like this:

  • The data collected by the SKA in a single day would take nearly two million years to playback on a typical MP3 player.
  • The SKA central computer will have the processing power of about one hundred million PCs.
  • The SKA will use enough optical fiber linking up all the radio telescopes to wrap twice around the Earth.
  • The dishes of the SKA when fully operational will produce 10 times the global internet traffic as of 2013.
  • The aperture arrays in the SKA could produce more than 100 times the global internet traffic as of 2013.
  • The SKA will generate enough raw data to fill 15 million 64 GB MP3 players every day.
  • The SKA supercomputer will perform 1018 operations per second - equivalent to the number of stars in three million Milky Way galaxies - in order to process all the data that the SKA will produce.
  • The SKA will be so sensitive that it will be able to detect an airport radar on a planet 50 light years away.
  • The SKA will contain thousands of antennas with a combined collecting area of about one square kilometer (that's 1,000,000 square meters).
  • Analysts estimate the London Olympics was the most data-heavy event in recent history - with some 60 Gbytes, the equivalent of 3,000 photographs, travelling across the network in the London Olympic Park every second. This however is only equivalent to the data rate from about half of a single low frequency aperture array station in SKA phase one.

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