Jamie Morton

Jamie Morton is science reporter at the NZ Herald.

Kiwis on board for construction of biggest radio telescope

An artist's impression of the Square Kilometre Array telescope, which will be stationed in Africa and Australia. Photo / SKA
An artist's impression of the Square Kilometre Array telescope, which will be stationed in Africa and Australia. Photo / SKA

Kiwi researchers will play a star role in one of the biggest and boldest scientific projects in history - the construction of the world's largest radio telescope.

Once built, the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) telescope would allow astronomers to survey the entire sky thousands of times faster than any system currently in existence, and reveal astonishing new information about the origins and history of the universe.

Stationed in Australia and Africa, the telescope will consist of dishes and literally millions of dipole radio receptors.

With an effective collecting area of a square kilometre it would prove 100 times as sensitive as the biggest present-day telescopes and boast image resolution quality 50 times that of the Hubble Space Telescope.

Yesterday, Science and Innovation Minister Steven Joyce announced two research groups, from Victoria University and AUT University, would lead some of the most important work in the multi-billion dollar project.

New Zealand would further support the global project with government funding of $1.7 million, along with $2.1 million from Kiwi institutions.

More than 350 scientists and engineers from 18 countries and more than 100 institutions are involved, which presented New Zealand an "unprecedented" opportunity to showcase its expertise in ICT and software development. The project has now reached the detailed design phase, which involved groups across the world investigating how best to design the telescope.

AUT's Dr Andrew Ensor will lead the design of the telescope's survey correlator, which combines the signals from all of the receivers.

Victoria University's Dr Melanie Johnston-Hollitt, a senior lecturer in Astrophysics from the School of Chemical and Physical Sciences, would meanwhile lead a team of researchers which will contribute towards the science data processor work package, working alongside other New Zealand and international experts.

Dr Johnston-Hollitt said that one of the greatest challenges of the project was how to maximise the scientific return from the vast amount of data generated.

- NZ Herald

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