Probing the Universe from Australia's outback

SKA artists impression

Artists impression of the 5km diameter central core of SKA antennas. Credit: SKA Project Development Office and Swinburne Astronomy Productions.

An astrophysicist will this week explain what she hopes to find at the very edges of the Universe when the world's largest and most sensitive radio telescope is built.

The combined power of more than 10,000 linked radio antennae in Western Australia and Southern Africa  will create the equivalent of a telescope with a one kilometre square dish - several times the collecting area of the largest existing telescopes. This new telescope, due to begin construction in 2016, will be known as the Square Kilometer Array (SKA).

At the next Monash Centre for Astrophysics (MoCA) public lecture Dr Lisa Harvey-Smith, Research Astronomer and CSIRO's Project Scientist for the Australian SKA Pathfinder, will explain the enormous challenges in building the SKA, and what it will be capable of doing.

The free talks, hosted regularly by MoCA, feature top astrophysics researchers who explain the mysteries of space to interested members of the public. Audience members are encouraged to ask questions following the talks.

MoCA astrophysicist Dr Simon Campbell said the SKA would be able to detect faint radio signals from the very edge of the Universe. 

"Radio telescopes give astronomers different information to optical telescopes - they allow us to see things not visible in normal light, like gases, or areas obscured by dust," Dr Campbell said.

"The SKA will open up previously unexplored regions of the Universe. With the power of the SKA, we will be able to gain new insights into unknowns such as how the first galaxies formed and evolved, and where life might exist beyond Earth.

"It will also help us to understand dark matter and dark energy which comprise around 95 per cent of the Universe and are thought to affect its rate of expansion. Beyond that, we know almost nothing about these forces. Hopefully, the SKA will change that. We are lucky to have Dr Harvey-Smith visiting – she will give us the inside story on the SKA."

Dr Harvey-Smith, who worked at prestigious institutions in Germany, The Netherlands and Sydney, before joining CSIRO, will also discuss some surprising spin-off benefits from the SKA. These are expected to be in areas as diverse as image processing, supercomputing, telecommunications, and green energy. 

Dr Lisa Harvey-Smith will deliver 'The Square Kilometre Array: Building the World's Largest Telescope in our Backyard' at 6.30pm, Thursday 16 May, Lecture theatre S3, Monash University, Clayton Campus. 

No registration is required. Further information is available on the Monash Centre for Astrophysics website.