Group sets plans for largest radio telescope ever

Apr 01, 2011 by Bob Yirka report
Artist's impression of the SKA dishes. Credit: SPDO/TDP/DRAO/Swinburne Astronomy Productions

(PhysOrg.com) -- Proving that a lot of little things can go a long way, a group of astronomers have revealed plans to build and install a radio telescope array out of thousands of small inexpensive dishes, spread out over thousands of miles of remote territory.

Known as the Square Kilometer Array (SKA) the telescope would be the largest of its kind ever created, and would give scientists clues about the creation of the universe, help understand , or even maybe, perhaps, help receive signals from other intelligent life forms.

The SKA, so named because of the collective size of the dishes that would make up the system, would be comprised of over 3000 relatively inexpensive dishes that when connected together, and coordinated with a new, as yet undeveloped , would result in a single radio telescope capable of delivering 50 times greater sensitivity than anything currently operating. And if that’s not enough, it would also provide 100 times the resolution.

The group, comprised of scientists from over twenty countries, expect costs to be in the neighborhood of $2 billion, with construction starting sometime in the next decade and completion in 2024.

A site for the proposed telescope has not yet been chosen, though several countries are vying for selection and the scientific prominence and influx of international cash that would result. The problem is, there are few optimal sites, due to the fact that all of the dishes would have to be situated in a place so remote that no people, cars, phones or other noise making devices would be in the vicinity. Currently, the leading contenders appear to be a block of countries in southern African and Australian and New Zealand.

Artist's impression of the three cores of the SKA central region.

The telescope would in actuality be comprised of both conventional dish receivers and flat plates that that can be controlled electronically to listen and point to different parts of the spectrum.

Artist's impression of the SKA dishes. Credit: SPDO/TDP/DRAO/Swinburne Astronomy Productions

Adding to the cost and complexity of the project would be the actual connecting together of the individual parts, likely with fiber optics and a controller that would have to not only position the nodes on the network, but would have to account for time lags as well, and as much as 20 GB of data per second from each of the telescopes.

Like the Large Hadron Collider project, most of those involved in the SKA project expect that if it’s completed as hoped, new discoveries will be made with it that no one as yet can possibly imagine.

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More information: www.skatelescope.org/

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Rdavid
4.7 / 5 (3) Apr 01, 2011
Put it on the moon.
RM07
4 / 5 (1) Apr 01, 2011
This sounds fantastic. But, a completion date of 2024? Ugh.

Does anyone know if the build-out of the Allen Telescope array is still stalled?
Gthedon
5 / 5 (4) Apr 01, 2011
wow this is a truley brilliant design, i love it when scientist from around the world come together, put currency aside and build a revolutionary array. If you really think about it, i feel like the perspective of the world would change if we were to find extraterrestrial life. Once we as humans realize were not alone i believe we will come together and realize geography means nothing, it doesnt separate us at all we should all be working together as a global network, science would advance so much faster, and human evolution.
thermodynamics
1 / 5 (1) Apr 01, 2011
Gthedon: I completely agree with your view of how it should be if we were to discover life among the stars. However, I am pessimistic. Watching discussions on this site, seeing polls that show that more than 60% of the US (a supposedly educated nation) believes that angels are walking among us, and seeing attacks on the UN today in Afghanistan due to some zealot in Florida burning a Qur'an, I have very bad feeling about the backlash of religious groups to the news we are not alone. I can imagine the pitchforks and torches marching on the SKA and the deaths caused throughout the world. The world would never be the same, and I hope it would settle down to a positive perspective - but I don't hold high hopes for the reaction to the initial news.
Husky
4.5 / 5 (4) Apr 01, 2011
i would think australia be a good choice for having its remote outback as well as highly developed existing infrastructure/economy/science community to plug into, the spoken english (well sort of)language would make it appealing to british and american scientists and geographically it would be an attractive hub for other mayor astronomy players, like India, china and japan.
pargy
5 / 5 (7) Apr 01, 2011
The Australia New Zealand proposal offers the optimal east west baseline of around 5,500 kilometres which gives the greatest viewing window obtainable. The curvature of the Moon is too acute to allow the east west extremities of the virtual array to be in view of the same distant object at the same time, which is the critical limiting factor.
dougie_fresh_007
not rated yet Apr 01, 2011
Put it on the moon.

why not in the moons orbit w/satelites whose positions could be adapted and extra additions would not be limited?
DamienS
4.8 / 5 (4) Apr 01, 2011
Gthedon: I completely agree with your view of how it should be if we were to discover life among the stars.

In fact, the SKA won't really be doing much SETI type work. Its mission is to address a wide range of fundamental questions in physics, astrophysics, cosmology and astrobiology. With its superb resolution, it will be able to investigate previously unexplored parts of the distant Universe.
tkjtkj
2 / 5 (1) Apr 01, 2011
I would think that environmental RF noise/interference would be a critical factor .. not to say anything about what one does with 20Gb's of data per second x 1000's of 'scopes!!
Technology has a way to go before being capable of this adventure!
Sean_W
1 / 5 (1) Apr 01, 2011
I wonder if morning dew dripping off the equipment and shading of the surrounding ground might increase the diversity of plant and animal species in the immediate area.
Husky
3 / 5 (2) Apr 02, 2011
it wont be long before conspiricy sites will pick up this story and make an australian HAARP project to burn the ionosphere out of this
Aliensarethere
5 / 5 (4) Apr 02, 2011
not to say anything about what one does with 20Gb's of data per second x 1000's of 'scopes!!
Technology has a way to go before being capable of this adventure!


It's part of the project to develop a new type of supercomputer that can handle the massive amount of data.
Eikka
1.5 / 5 (2) Apr 02, 2011
Don't lay optical cables. Simply fire the data through the air via optical infrared beams like in the RONJA network. Works up to about a mile, so range isn't an issue.
mjesfahani
not rated yet Apr 02, 2011
Comgradulations to telecommunication scientist :)
fuviss_co_uk
4 / 5 (2) Apr 02, 2011
not to say anything about what one does with 20Gb's of data per second x 1000's of 'scopes!!
Technology has a way to go before being capable of this adventure!


It's part of the project to develop a new type of supercomputer that can handle the massive amount of data.


yeah exascale computing, it will be great for science

as i know DARPA, IBM are working on this problem
they say we may have exascale monsters as soon as 2018-2020

in my opinion if some volunteers ( like from example. SETI@HOME) will connect
their future PCs, tablets, smartphones with several cores, we may achieve "cloud" exaflop supercomputer in a few years, I would say 2015
Quantum_Conundrum
1 / 5 (1) Apr 02, 2011
fuvis:

We're going to have something like 6nm or 7nm transistor process chips by 2020, mass produced, (which IBM and Intel have allegedly already proven possible,) so we're talking 20 to 28 times as many transistors in the same area.

Currently, Intel servers are using a quad board which has 6-core processors, giving a total of 24 processor cores per board. The trend suggests that by 2020 they will be making server boards which will have somewhere between 480 and 700 processor cores.

So these systems could be designed with this knowledge in advance, since they won't actually be deployed until around 2024.

By 2024, a smart phone from Apple or one of their competitors will have roughly 80 to 160 processor cores.

The processing power per se isn't going to be a problem. The problem will be the amount of networking and cabling required to transmit this much data and how to feed it into the main computer.
Quantum_Conundrum
1 / 5 (2) Apr 02, 2011
thermodynamics:

I don't think the discovery of alien life would have any affect on Christianity as a whole.

We have always believed in "extra-terrestrials" called "Angels" and "Demons" going back to the oldest written and verbal traditions. Many different types of them are described in the Bible.

The notion that there is some form of life or intelligence outside the earth need not frighten or alarm anyone, because Angels and Demons and other creatures have always been known. I highly doubt finding a "vulcan" or "klingon" would actually change religion or politics on earth anyway, after all, we are not even in agreement within our own nations, states, cities, towns, political parties, religions or non-religions, etc.

Humans hate one another for any reason or for no reason. Finding some little green men, or grey men, or whatever, isn't going to change that.
Fooert
5 / 5 (2) Apr 02, 2011
We already have all the technology to achieve the complexity of this array.

A new technology that uses amplitude and frequency modulation of lasers has already proven the concept of a 100 GB /second network connection. While this technology is not available today it should be within the next 5 to 10 years.

The super-computer could be replaced with a grid computing option. The benefit of grid is that it can be expanded as needed and could be comprised of existing technology. If you are not familiar with grid computing a quick Internet search will fill you in.
fuviss_co_uk
5 / 5 (1) Apr 02, 2011
Quantum

you only look at nowadays technologies
what about graphene transistors ( in 2015 they may be feasible), optical computing, 3D chips, even dna based computing, and many more which we will see in coming years I am sure that, even with existing silicon chips we will achieve exascale before 2020
Quantum_Conundrum
1.3 / 5 (4) Apr 02, 2011
Quantum

you only look at nowadays technologies
what about graphene transistors ( in 2015 they may be feasible), optical computing, 3D chips, even dna based computing, and many more which we will see in coming years I am sure that, even with existing silicon chips we will achieve exascale before 2020


6nm electronic transistors are actually smaller than the individual bases in DNA.

DNA computers are nice science fiction, but the reality is, if IBM and Intel aren't blowing smoke, then classical electronic computers are already on track to being provably better than the best possible DNA computer's physical limits by 2018 to 2020 time period.

Oh yeah, the only reason I didn't mention 3d and optical is because I usually get flamed by the forum mafia on those topics.

We must also realize that the data gathered by these systems will be so vast that we will need at least specialized A.I., like WATSON, just to narrow down the most important observations...
Au-Pu
5 / 5 (1) Apr 03, 2011
Africa would be hazardous as there is too much instability on that continent.
New Zealand could be OK but Australia would appear to be a better bet as there are areas where there are no roads for hundreds of miles and there is clear desert air
Eikka
1 / 5 (1) Apr 03, 2011

6nm electronic transistors are actually smaller than the individual bases in DNA.


Which is why they won't work - they're too small. It's on the size scale of individual atoms.

The Moore's law is estimated to have a hard limit once we reach about 10 nm, although it is said that since the cost of the new fabrication systems is increasing exponentially the smaller you make the transistors, the law of diminishing returns would see us stop at around 16 nm because nobody can afford to build such a factory - there is no number of chips in the world you could sell to offset the cost in a reasonable time frame.
Eikka
1 / 5 (1) Apr 03, 2011
At 11 nm feature size, the gate dielectric thickness of a transistor is already reduced to a single layer of atoms, so it's not very clear how one would fabricate a 6 nm transistor.

Perhaps by using smaller atoms, but then, would they be of the right kind?
anthonys
5 / 5 (1) Apr 03, 2011
The two main areas for consideration are the karoo in South Africa and the Australian outback. Speaking on the karoo, it is very dry, so you won't have dew dripping off the arrays for the vast majority of the time. Extra moisture would not change the flora, but would increase the flowering rate of the flora, such as what happens in Namaqualand (part of the southern area of the karoo) where trips are made by people to see the carpets of flowers that bloom for a few days after the rains in the area. The proposed site is much further north and is pretty desolate - devoid of water and people. There is no standing water in the karoo, except for a few man-made dams to collect the scarce rainfall. By the way, if you want to make jibes about the Aussie English, any American should keep quiet, especially the writer of this article who writes about "comprised of"; contributors who use an apostrophe in "its" when using it as a personal pronoun (do you put an apostrophe in "his" and "hers"?).
kaasinees
1 / 5 (1) Apr 03, 2011
At 11 nm feature size, the gate dielectric thickness of a transistor is already reduced to a single layer of atoms, so it's not very clear how one would fabricate a 6 nm transistor.

Perhaps by using smaller atoms, but then, would they be of the right kind?


Seriously, i will tell you again, do some research before posting non-sense like this.
3-5 nm transistors are already theoreticly possible, check physorg articles if you don't believe me.
Quantum_Conundrum
1 / 5 (1) Apr 03, 2011
At 11 nm feature size, the gate dielectric thickness of a transistor is already reduced to a single layer of atoms, so it's not very clear how one would fabricate a 6 nm transistor.

Perhaps by using smaller atoms, but then, would they be of the right kind?


About a year ago an Australian team proved that a 4nm transistor CAN be created using existing technology.

The other thing you need to realize is that eventually we are going to crack the "bottom-up" approach to nanomachines, and this will allow far, far less wasted space in the production of computer circuitry as compared to lithography.

If you can crack even a specialized class of "bottom-up" nanomachines then the cost of production facilities becomes negligible. You could theoretically make a computer production facility for the same price as planting corn for goodness sakes.

This doesn't have to be a century away. As computers advance another 5 or 10 times in power, cracking this will get easier...
tkjtkj
4.3 / 5 (3) Apr 03, 2011
The notion that there is some form of life or intelligence outside the earth need not frighten or alarm anyone, because Angels and Demons and other creatures have always been known. I highly doubt finding a "vulcan" or "klingon" would actually change religion or politics"


The fact you choose to UPERcase your 'Angels' and 'Demons' yet lowercase 'vulcans', etc, proves to us that you do not believe what you are saying: you are revealing that you hold these concepts differently, you see them 'damaged' in some way by your religious nonsense.
Quantum_Conundrum
1 / 5 (1) Apr 03, 2011
At 11 nm feature size, the gate dielectric thickness of a transistor is already reduced to a single layer of atoms, so it's not very clear how one would fabricate a 6 nm transistor.

Perhaps by using smaller atoms, but then, would they be of the right kind?


Seriously, i will tell you again, do some research before posting non-sense like this.
3-5 nm transistors are already theoreticly possible, check physorg articles if you don't believe me.


They've already been made a year ago.

Also, a few months ago an article was posted about a device using carbon nano-tubes which was effectively, for practical purposes, a 6nm optical gate using two 6nm wide carbon nano-tubes as wires, and a 6nm molecule suspended between their ends as the actual gate.

The photon detectors of similar scale already exist as well, so all they have to do is combine that into a single device to make an actual optical circuit.
Quantum_Conundrum
1 / 5 (1) Apr 03, 2011
The fact you choose to UPERcase your 'Angels' and 'Demons' yet lowercase 'vulcans', etc, proves to us that you do not believe what you are saying: you are revealing that you hold these concepts differently, you see them 'damaged' in some way by your religious nonsense.


The terms "vulcan" and "klingon" were used with a lower case because they were not intended to be assumed as any specific or exclusive race, but as a generic example of repeating "demi-human" alien races in science fantasy television series, and also because it is extremely unlikely that "vulcans" or "klingons" actually exist, since they are knowingly fabrications of said science fantasy.

On the other hand, and whether you personally believe or not, Angels and Demons are held both by the authors and the believers to be actual creatures that exist in the real universe.

There are no vulcans or klingons, and even if we find intelligent aliens, they won't be "Vulcans" and they won't be "Klingons".
marraco
not rated yet Apr 03, 2011
At 11 nm feature size, the gate dielectric thickness of a transistor is already reduced to a single layer of atoms, so it's not very clear how one would fabricate a 6 nm transistor.
We don't need to accept a lower size limit.

We can accomplish higher logical density by turning to polinary transistors.

There is an article on Physorg about a tri-state transistor. That's the way to extend Moore's law beyond 6 nm.
Quantum_Conundrum
1 / 5 (1) Apr 03, 2011

We can accomplish higher logical density by turning to polinary transistors.

There is an article on Physorg about a tri-state transistor. That's the way to extend Moore's law beyond 6 nm.


Polinary memory could theoretically achieve extremely high data densities for data storage, but doing logic with polynary transistors is not very straight-forward, and in some cases may require more operations than would be worth-while to manipulate the data.

Theory is all good, but does your actual read/write mechanism take up so much space that it isn't worth it? Does the complexity of polynary transistors take up more space than their performance benefits warrant?

But in theory, you could store twice as much date in about the same space if you had base-4 transistors, assuming the base-4 transistors take up about the same space as conventional base-2 transistors. To do this electronically, you'd need a transistor capable of handling variable electronic charges...continued...
Quantum_Conundrum
1 / 5 (1) Apr 03, 2011
Not only would you need transistors capable of handling vairable voltages, but you'd need entire circuitry and logic capable of handling this. So it would be a completely different computer architecture from anything we've ever seen in history, and would also not even be compatible to the existing Internet. You'd need to make converter boxes to communicate with existing computers, modems, and routers, etc, because of backwards compatibilitiy issues.

In fact, backwards compatibility issues are one of the main things that slow computer advancement down. Just open your case and look at all the outdated ports and devices which are on a NEW computer's motherboard "just in case" it needs to interface with an old computer or device...
jtdrexel
not rated yet Apr 04, 2011
Good! I'll donate my Dish Network antenna. At least it can be of some REAL use!
marraco
not rated yet Apr 20, 2011
... So it would be a completely different computer architecture from anything we've ever seen in history, and would also not even be compatible to the existing Internet...
Ternary computers were already built. They were cheaper and faster than binary ones. An example was the Setun computer made in the 50's.
Some advantages of ternary logic, is that may not require storing of number sign, thus making simpler addition and products.

Sure, a polinary computer would need architecture changes, but it should not be a problem for his internal work. They should internally work completely on polinary base, without translation to binary.

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