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Work begins on World’s biggest telescope.

Plans for the world’s biggest telescope — the Square Kilometre Array
— advanced significantly today (2nd April 2011) with a decision to
locate the project office at Jodrell Bank Observatory near Manchester,
support from the partners including the United Kingdom for the next
phase of the project, and the first steps towards creating the legal
entity needed to deliver this ambitious global project.

The Square Kilometre Array (SKA) is a €1.5 billion multinational
science project to build the world’s largest and most sensitive radio
telescope. The SKA will be capable of answering some of the most
fundamental questions about the Universe — including helping to
understand dark energy, general relativity in extreme conditions and
how the Universe came to the look the way it does now.

The SKA will be an array of radio antennas with a collection area of a
square kilometer with its core in South Africa or Australia. Signals
from individual antennas will be combined to form one giant telescope.
In the same way, the famous Lovell Telescope at the University of
Manchester’s Jodrell Bank Observatory is used with other U.K.
telescopes (the e-MERLIN network) and as part of an international
network. With an antenna at Chilbolton, the U.K. is also part of LOFAR
a low-frequency network centered in the Netherlands. SKA builds on
this technique and tradition of collaboration, bringing together all
the major groups in radio astronomy.

Professor Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell, prominent radio astronomer and
President of the Institute of Physics, said: “Since the 1950s, radio
astronomy has provided scientific pioneers with tools to revolutionize
our understanding of the Universe. The power of this new telescope
project however is going to surpass anything we’ve seen before,
enabling us to see many more radio-emitting stars and galaxies and
pulling the curtains wide open on parts of the great beyond that radio
astronomers like me have only ever dreamt of exploring. The Square
Kilometre Array heralds in a post-Einstein era of physics that will
help us take huge strides in our attempt to understand the most
bizarre objects and the darkest ages of the Universe.”

U.K. Home to the SKA Project Office
Minister for Universities and Science, David Willetts said: “The
Square Kilometre Array is a project of global significance. This is
evidence of the high reputation of Britain’s management of
international science projects. It is great news for Britain and for
Jodrell Bank and Manchester University in particular.”

The U.K. has hosted the SKA Programme Development Office at The
University of Manchester in recent years. We now look forward to the
move of the SKA Programme Office from the Manchester campus to the
University’s Jodrell Bank Observatory. Jodrell Bank is a most fitting
home for the scientists and engineers who will shape the SKA. Locating
the project office here will not just be a good outcome for the U.K.
it will strengthen the SKA project itself by bringing together a rich
combination of innovation and experience in radio astronomy.  The SKA
Programme Office activity will complement the U.K. SKA effort built up
in the Universities of Cambridge, Manchester and Oxford and extending
into wider industrial and academic communities.

Professor John Womersley, STFC’s Director of Science Programmes, who
was today elected as chair of the SKA Founding Board, said: “It is
great to see such significant progress being made towards building the
SKA, one of our highest priorities in astronomy. The universities of
Cambridge, Oxford and Manchester have a great heritage in astronomy
and they are working together in SKA to ensure the U.K. takes a
leading role in this exciting global project to better understand the
universe we live in.”

Professor Stephen Watts, Head, School of Physics and Astronomy,
University of Manchester said: “Jodrell Bank is an ideal place for
scientists and engineers to work together to plan the world’s largest
radio telescope, alongside world-leading radio astronomy facilities,
and the new Discovery Centre. Together these offer a real opportunity
to inspire people of all ages with this ambitious project to answer
truly fundamental questions about the nature of the universe.”

Professor Richard Schilizzi, Director of the SKA, said: “The move to
Jodrell bank comes at a crucial time as the project grows from a
concept to an international megascience project. The new location and
facilities will support the significant expansion that is planned.”

Agreeing to an International Partnership
The SKA has been agreed as a top priority project for astronomy both
in the U.K. and across Europe. It is a very significant step that nine
partners have started the process to secure funding and create a legal
structure for the SKA. The U.K., through the Science and Technology
Facilities Council, is expecting to invest of the order of £15 million
in the next phase of the SKA.

In addition to the immense scientific progress that will be made by

the SKA, the project is expected to have wider benefits in continuing
its already impressive involvement with industrial partners and
continuing the inspiration of the public through astronomy, as Jodrell
Bank has for many years.

The SKA project will drive technology development in antennas, signal
transport, signal processing, and software and computing. Spin off
innovations in these areas will benefit other systems that process
large volumes of data. The design, construction and operation of the
SKA has the potential to impact skills development in science,
engineering and in associated industries not only in the host
countries but in all project partners.


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