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SKA, music to an astronomers ears
May 27, 2012 5:10 PM   Subscribe

The Square Kilometre Array (SKA) Organisation recently announced a two site approach, in Australia-NZ and Southern Africa, a move that was applauded by the Australian team. Once fully operational in 2024, SKA's one square kilometre collecting area should lead to major advances in astronomy.

Some factoids:
  • The data collected by the SKA in a single day would take nearly two million years to playback on an ipod.
  • The SKA central computer will have the processing power of about one hundred million PCs.
  • The SKA will use enough optical fibre to wrap twice around the Earth!
  • The dishes of the SKA will produce 10 times the global internet traffic.
  • The aperture arrays in the SKA could produce more than 100 times the global internet traffic.
  • The SKA will generate enough raw data to fill 15 million 64 GB iPods every day!
  • The SKA super computer will perform 10^18 operations per second – equivalent to the number of stars in three million Milky Way galaxies – in order to process all the data that the SKA will produce.
  • The SKA will be so sensitive that it will be able to detect an airport radar on a planet 50 light years away.
  • The SKA will contain thousands of antennas with a combined collecting area of about one square kilometre (that’s 1,000,000 square metres!).
posted by wilful (32 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
That's 10^18 operations per second. A little more impressive. :)
posted by hanoixan at 5:19 PM on May 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


I don't see the SKA organisation claiming this, but I suspect that due to increasing radio noise elsewhere on the planet, this will be our biggest and best planet-bound radiointerferometer ever built, we wont get better low-frequency research until we head this research into orbit, in the fairly distant future.
posted by wilful at 5:20 PM on May 27, 2012


I always knew SKA would save the world.
posted by The Whelk at 5:29 PM on May 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


TVO's Big ideas program had a lecture on this just last week. Link to presentation and video.
posted by McSly at 5:30 PM on May 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


Cheers McSly. Lisa Harvey-Smith is the author of the article under "Australian".
posted by wilful at 5:36 PM on May 27, 2012


Just an astonishingly ambitious project. Great to see this being developed!
posted by lubujackson at 5:46 PM on May 27, 2012


The energy requirements of the SKA also present an opportunity to accelerate technology development in scalable renewable energy generation, distribution, storage and demand reduction.

Translation: "Good news, everyone! The SKA will use 700 kabillion jiggawatts of electricity every second for the rest of eternity!"
posted by Sys Rq at 5:48 PM on May 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


(Also, come on, if you're going to call it SKA, the least you could do is arrange it in a checkerboard pattern.)
posted by Sys Rq at 5:54 PM on May 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Man, I've been waiting for the 5th wave of Ska.
posted by Jimbob at 5:58 PM on May 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Translation: "Good news, everyone! The SKA will use 700 kabillion jiggawatts of electricity every second for the rest of eternity!"

Geothermal power is being considered, and is a real possibility is Western Australia, where the Australian site is proposed to be.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 5:58 PM on May 27, 2012


In conversation with someone at my job how was working on the bid, he explained the SKA sensitivity like so:

Current sensitivity is good enough to pick up a mobile phone signal on Uranus, for example. SKA sensitivity will be able to do this for planets outside our solar system.

Amazing.
posted by smoke at 6:01 PM on May 27, 2012


Current sensitivity is good enough to pick up a mobile phone signal on Uranus
The layman's term for this is "butt dialing".
posted by hincandenza at 6:05 PM on May 27, 2012 [7 favorites]


Next they will build the Square Kilometer Infrared Ferro-Fluxuating Limitless Explorer telescope, and then SKA will have given way to SKIFFLE, and we'll be all set for the Beatles again.
posted by hippybear at 6:10 PM on May 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Hmmm, there's also the Radio Energy Gargantuan Grid Array Experiment...
posted by foonly at 6:19 PM on May 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


We need to start planning to use the Alpha Centauri baseline for a -really- big installation ... the Bandgap Interferometric Galactic Binary Exoplanetary Array Telescope. To be fondly nicknamed the "Fatboy".
posted by Twang at 6:43 PM on May 27, 2012


This is wonderful. The concept was proved by the VLA, and it's really amazing to me that it's taken this long for anyone to try to do the same thing, only better.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 6:49 PM on May 27, 2012


PUT IT ON THE ROOF

SET IT FOR GAMMA RADIATION

PS TONY I LOVE YOU

#readingtoomanyavengerstumblrs
posted by Sebmojo at 6:58 PM on May 27, 2012


You've scanned too much much too young
posted by The Whelk at 7:00 PM on May 27, 2012


This radiospace is coming like a ghost radiospace
All the walkietalkies are being closed down
Mobile phones wont play no more
Too much noise in the interferometer

Do you remember the good old days
Before the ghost town?
We danced and sang,
And the radio waves played inna de outback WA boomtown
posted by wilful at 7:09 PM on May 27, 2012


PUT IT ON THE ROOF

SET IT FOR GAMMA RADIATION

PS TONY I LOVE YOU

BURMA-SHAVE.
posted by Talez at 7:20 PM on May 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Chocolate Pickle: One reason there hasn't been a direct successor to the VLA yet is that it's been much cheaper to improve the VLA's capabilities as technology has gotten better rather than to build a whole new array. The latest iteration, EVLA, is going into operation this year. Today's VLA can do what would have taken many VLAs to do 30 years ago.

The other reason is that radio astronomy's biggest project for the past dozen years has been a different telescope array, ALMA, which is intended to bring the same sort of revolution to millimeter-wavelength astronomy than the VLA did for centimeter wavelengths. Centimeter-wavelength radio waves are great for observing hydrogen atoms and radiation from regions around black holes; while molecules ranging from carbon monoxide to ethyl alcohol, which generally are found in the nurseries where stars are born, radiate at millimeter wavelengths. ALMA will open up a completely different window on the universe that we've been able to access in only a limited way in the past.

The biggest reason it hasn't happened sooner, though, is that SKA will be terrifically expensive. ALMA has cost more than a billion dollars, and the operating expenses are causing across-the-board cutbacks in NSF astronomy (many rumors have flown around suggesting that Kitt Peak observatory will be closed to save a few million dollars a year, for instance). SKA's costs will dwarf that.

Of course, SKA would have been even more expensive a few years ago, but we are benefiting from Moore's Law.
posted by janewman at 7:54 PM on May 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Science: Who does it think it’s kidding?

a cartoon about the SKA, full of political jokes only an Aussie poli-tragic would get
posted by wilful at 9:28 PM on May 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Science: Who does it think it’s kidding?

Well, I enjoyed that immensely. But then, I am, as you say, an Aussie poli-tragic.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 10:39 PM on May 27, 2012


If it's out in Australia, they mid-band collectors seem like they'd attract the SKAngaroos.

I hear soon they'll be launching SKAtellites. If they launch them from the Kennedy Space Center, you'll be able to see them over the Miami SKAline, and maybe they'll be able to detect BattleSKA Galactica as it searches for a new home on Earth.

Still later, they'll have a lunar installation, whose themesong will be Fly Me to the Moon, by—you guessed it—Frank SKAnatra.
posted by Jon_Evil at 10:44 PM on May 27, 2012


Jon_Evil, if you want real Aussie ska, you can't go past VB Ska, by Loin Groin.
posted by wilful at 11:07 PM on May 27, 2012


Not sure if it is showing up elsewhere, but the Australian google page currently has a doodle honouring Ruby Payne-Scott an Australian Astronomer involved in early work in radio astronomy. As this Gizmodo Australia page notes, this announcement has a timely quality to it.
posted by Hello, I'm David McGahan at 11:08 PM on May 27, 2012


I'm saddened that I have never heard of Ruby Payne-Scott before.
posted by wilful at 11:32 PM on May 27, 2012


It's not so much fun but the SKA is usually pronounced by spelling out the three letters.
posted by edd at 11:53 PM on May 27, 2012


Edd talks funny! Let's get him!
posted by obiwanwasabi at 1:26 AM on May 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


It would be remiss of me not to mention the Australian Ska institution The Porkers (warning autoplay music) given that we share a latitude/longitude similarity.

But more seriously, I'm also disappointed that I've not heard of Ruby Payne-Scott before today. I'm hoping that someone with a better background in astronomy can put together the FPP I've been somewhat failing to pull together. I mean, just read her entry at the csiropedia.
posted by Hello, I'm David McGahan at 3:34 AM on May 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


Fine, I'll do it myself.
posted by Hello, I'm David McGahan at 7:14 AM on May 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Current sensitivity is good enough to pick up a mobile phone signal on Uranus, for example. SKA sensitivity will be able to do this for planets outside our solar system.

Fascinating. And heartening; given the time and money invested in the project, success is paramount, and upon reading about this it became very important for me to ascertain that – to pick an example out of thin air, or thin space, if you will (haha), say, if a neutron star collided with a black hole at the edge of the observable universe, expelling gamma radiation within less than a degree of the Earth, the SKA will be able to pick it up pick it up pick it up pick it up.
posted by furiousthought at 9:00 PM on May 31, 2012


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