Do big telescopes mean bigger findings?

9th May 2011
Five of the seven satellite dishes that make up the KAT radio telescope stand at Square Kilometre Array (SKA) © Halden Krog/The Times/Gallo Images/Getty Images

Five of the seven satellite dishes that make up the KAT radio telescope stand at Square Kilometre Array (SKA) © Halden Krog/The Times/Gallo Images/Getty Images

The new Square Kilometre Array telescope (SKA) is set to be the world’s largest radio telescope, and 50 times more sensitive than its predecessor. It will cost £1.3bn, and is likely to be built in Australia or South Africa, but will have its headquarters firmly planted at Jodrell Bank, Cheshire. 

The SKA telescope will have a receiving area of one square kilometre, meaning it could pick up a mobile phone signal on Neptune. But why do we need such a huge international piece of equipment?

Why do bigger telescopes mean bigger findings?

  • Bigger telescopes gather more light and produce higher resolution images
  • The introduction of bigger telescopes will allow us to study Earth-sized planets around local stars. This will allow us to determine how rare Earth is and subsequently, how likely Earth-like life is to exist elsewhere in the galaxy
  • Larger telescopes gathering more light will enable astronomers to detect fainter objects that existed further back in the Universe’s history 

Could the SKA reveal the origins of the Universe?

  • Perhaps - the hope is that future telescopes, such as the SKA, will be able to see ‘first light’ - when the first stars formed out of the primordial universe’s post-Big Bang mass, roughly 14 billion years ago



 


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