University of Calgary

Exploring the Universe with the world’s largest radio telescope

UToday HomeJune 30, 2011

By Leanne Yohemas

The University of Calgary, the lead Canadian institution on the $2 billion (CDN) SKA unprecedented project, is co-hosting meetings in Banff to help further planning of the world’s biggest radio telescope.The University of Calgary, the lead Canadian institution on the $2 billion (CDN) SKA unprecedented project, is co-hosting meetings in Banff to help further planning of the world’s biggest radio telescope. Illustration courtesy of SPDO/Swinburne Astronomy ProductionsThe Square Kilometre Array (SKA), the world’s biggest radio telescope, will be so powerful it will be able to detect airport radar on a planet 50-light years away. It will also help shed light on some of the mysteries of our universe: How do galaxies evolve? Are we alone? Was Einstein right?

The University of Calgary is the lead Canadian institution on the $2 billion (CDN) unprecedented project and is co-hosting a series of meetings in Banff between July 3 and 8 which brings together the international community that is planning the SKA.

“The planning for the SKA project has been over 10 years in the making. This meeting marks a milestone in which we are transitioning to a pre-construction phase where we will work with industry to develop the detailed plans to begin construction of the SKA in the second half of this decade,” says Dr. Russ Taylor, physics professor in the science faculty and Canadian lead on the SKA project, which will be in Australia, New Zealand or Southern Africa.

A public forum on July 6 will include a presentation from Nobel Laureate John Mather from NASA on the science impact of the SKA as well as addresses from IBM, Boeing and other industry leaders.

Radio telescopes can see much more than optical telescopes. Instead of gathering and focusing visible light like optical telescopes, they operate in the radio frequency portion of the electromagnetic spectrum and use typically large, dish-shaped antennas, seeing a universe that is invisible to our eyes. The SKA must be built far from major centers to avoid interference from radio, TV, radar and other radio devices.

Dr. Leo Belostotski, Dr. Len Bruton and Dr. Jim Haslett from the Schulich School of Engineering are working on the design for the receivers that will pickup signals from deep space.

“If we can cut down the amplifier noise by half, the telescope collecting area could be approximately half the size and that will help with the telescope costs,” explains Belostotski, assistant professor in electrical and computer engineering.

Haslett’s focus is on improving conventional analog-to-digital converters for data transport.

“The amount of information flowing through the telescope is phenomenal: enough to fill 500 personal computers each second,” says Haslett, professor of computer and electrical engineering. “We want to reduce power consumption while still being able to digitize signals acquired by the SKA receivers and transmitting them to the next part in the SKA receiver chain.”

Dr. Len Bruton is also researching filters to get rid of undesired noise emanating from the sky, our own amplifiers, power supplies and other forms of radio-frequency. “We are also investigating new and improved ways of electronically steering our filters to look in specific directions in the sky, in real-time and using less computer power than current methods.” says Bruton, professor in electrical and computer engineering.

 

SKA Banff Public Forum
http://www.ska2011.org/SKA_Public_Forum_2011.html