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Tuesday, December 10, 2019

‘Radio waves can offer answers about extraterrestrial intelligence’

The on-site construction of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA), the world’s largest radio telescope, is all set to commence in early 2021.

By: Express News Service | Pune | Updated: October 26, 2019 6:22:15 am
The lecture was organised by the Indian Institute of Science, Education and Research, Pune on Friday. File

The on-site construction of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA), the world’s largest radio telescope, is all set to commence in early 2021.

India is one of the member countries besides South Africa, Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom and others, who are together building the SKA, proposed to be completed in two phases. The antennas for the largest radio telescope will be built in South Africa and Australia.

“With the approval of various designs expected to be completed by 2020, the construction of the first stage of SKA will commence in early 2021. It is expected to be over by 2026 or 2027,” said Yashwant Gupta, director, National Centre for Radio Astrophysics (NCRA).

He was speaking at the sixth edition of the Homi Bhabha Memorial lecture, organised by the Indian Institute of Science, Education and Research (IISER), Pune on Friday.

Sharing insights into the future of radio astronomy, Gupta said, “The data that SKA could gather would be far more than the whole of the existing internet traffic that is generated currently.”

This essentially means that the scientific community will require much more advanced tools, software and bigger telescopes to work with.

He said, “In order to observe the farthest and the faintest celestial objects, many of which go undetected now, we will need much bigger telescopes like SKA.” In fact, the radio waves could possibly lead to detecting extraterrestrial intelligence.

“Though at GMRT, we are not presently working on Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI), there are some preliminary-level talks going on with some of our collaborators. But, it would be the radio waves that would be offering some clues about SETI,” said Gupta.

Beyond all the present technological limitations and other barriers in observing celestial bodies, the pertinent and growing challenge, however, remains the noise or interference created by signals emitted by cellular towers. As radio signals are extremely weak, such noise could disturb the detection of signals coming from extremely far off celestial objects. Essentially, researchers will need to establish telescopes where human population is sparse.

Shedding further light on the subject, the NCRA director said, “At the South African site of SKA, the data collected by the antennas will be transferred using optical fibre cables to a location situated about 800 km away in Cape Town.”

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