Here are 16 facts about the SKA project

The Square Kilometre Array project in the Karoo launched its MeerKAT project on Friday and released this one-of-a-kind picture of the Milky Way.

In light of the MeerKAT’s launch, we’ve compiled a list of 16 facts about the SKA project:

The SKA project in numbers:

1. Each KAT telescope has been paired with a massive dish, 12m in diameter, while the MeerKAT’s dish is 13.5m in diameter.

2. The project is a 70/30 split between South Africa and Australia, with the Karoo receiving the lion’s share.

3. The data collected by the SKA in a 24-hour period would take nearly two million years to play back on an iPod.

4. The SKA will generate enough raw data every day to fill 15 million 64 GB iPods.

5. The SKA central computer will have the processing power of 100 million PCs.

6. The SKA will use enough optical fibre to wrap twice around the Earth.

7. The dishes of the SKA will produce ten times the current global internet traffic.

8. The aperture arrays will produce more than 100 times the current global internet traffic.

9. The SKA super-computer will perform 1 018 operations per second – equivalent to the number of stars in three million Milky Way-size galaxies. This is needed to process all the data the SKA will produce.

10. The SKA will contain thousands of antennas with a combined collecting area of about 1km² (that’s 1 000 000 m²).

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The SKA project includes the KAT-7 and Meerkat telescopes

Why the Karoo?

11. Some of the reasons why the Karoo was chosen as the location for the telescopes is because of its clear skies, high altitude and radio silence.

12. Most of the dishes will be in the Karoo, but they’ll be fanned out across Africa, including Botswana, Ghana, Mauritius, Kenya, Madagascar, Mozambique, Namibia and Zambia. They are expected to be fully operational by 2024.

13. Much like the KAT-7 telescopes, the 64 MeerKAT telescopes were assembled here by a local company.

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What will the SKA project do?

14. The SKA will allow astrophysicists from across the world to gather enough information to tease apart vexing issues that have been dogging the scientific community for decades:

  • Are there other planets out there that support life?
  • Why is the universe expanding and where is the supposed dark energy and dark matter that drive it?
  • What did the universe look like shortly after the Big Bang?
  • How did the universe’s magnetic fields evolve?
  • Was Einstein right about his Theory of Relativity?

15. SKA will cast light, as it were, on the dark ages of the universe – the time before gaseous ‘stars’ combusted and threw illumination across space for the first time.

16. The SKA will be so sensitive that it will be able to detect an airport radar on a planet 50 light years away.

(Facts courtesy SKA)

Words Julienne Du Toit

Photography Chris Marais

Words and photos taken from the original story which was featured in Country Life‘s September 2012 issue.

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