September 21, 2023
BEIJING – The first middle-frequency dish of the Square Kilometer Array radio telescope, the world’s biggest astronomy network, has begun to be assembled in Shijiazhuang, capital of Hebei province.
The Square Kilometer Array is an ambitious scientific project involving several nations including China, the United Kingdom and Australia. It is not a single radio telescope, but a collection of various types of antennae called an array. It is spread over long distances that combine to cover a total surface area of 1 square kilometer.
At a brief ceremony in Shijiazhuang on Wednesday morning, the main reflector of the first Square Kilometer Array middle-frequency dish, officially abbreviated as SKA-Mid, was lifted by a heavy-duty crane and then placed on the dish’s pedestal.
After that, engineers spent several hours connecting the two colossal components.
Most parts on the dish, including the main reflector, servo devices and support arm, were designed and built by the 54th Research Institute of China Electronics Technology Group Corp, located in Shijiazhuang, which is the major Chinese contractor in the SKA project.
Du Biao, the institute’s chief designer of the dish’s structure, told China Daily in an exclusive interview after the ceremony that in the next several days, engineers will mount the remaining parts on the dish, including the sub reflector. They will then start fine-tuning the entire dish to ensure its operational stability and accuracy.
Production of the first batch of 64 SKA-Mid dishes, including the one involved at Wednesday’s ceremony, has begun at the Shijiazhuang institute. They will later be delivered to the SKA Observatory, an intergovernmental organization based in Manchester, England, and then installed in the Karoo region of South Africa.
Another section of the SKA project, the low frequency dishes, or SKA-Low, will be located in the remote Murchison area of Western Australia.
Both sites were chosen for scientific and technical reasons, including their radio quietness.
Upon its scheduled completion in about 2028, the SKA will be the largest and most advanced astronomy equipment in the world and is expected to give scientists detailed insights into the history of the universe.
It will also enable scientists to better understand the nature of gravity, explore the origins of life and cosmic magnetic fields, as well as search for extraterrestrial civilizations.
The super network’s ultra large collecting area will give it 50 times the sensitivity and 10,000 times the survey speed of the best current-day telescopes — the Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array located in New Mexico, United States.
The full array will produce data at a rate more than 100 times the global internet traffic, according to Chinese scientists involved in the program.