From the Byrd telescope in West Virginia, to the Arecibo Telescope in Puerto Rico, to the MeerKAT system in South Africa, the world is not hurting for gigantic radio telescopes. These large arrays are precise and powerful, but come 2024, they will all be eclipsed by the capability of the Square Kilometre Array—a telescope system big enough to answer science’s deepest questions about the nature of our universe.
When it comes to radio telescopy, systems come in two varieties—humongous single dishes like 305-meter-wide Aricebo or as a collective of smaller individual dishes coordinating, like theMEERKAT array. Arrays boast a distinctive advantage over the dishes—the smaller individual dishes can be spread over a vastly larger area than a single dish could ever cover, granting the array a much greater collection area. Bigger collection areas translate into a larger searchable field of view and more data to study. The MeerKAT, current record holder for largest and most precise array telescope, has a collection area of about 18,000 square meters. When the $1.9 billion SKA is completed, it will provide, as its name suggests, a million square meters of collection area. It will be fifty times more precise than any other radio system on the planet, and it will be able to survey the sky ten thousand times faster than current systems. Ten thousand.