China's Part of Global Effort to 'See' into the Universe
Hundreds and eventually thousands of mid to high frequency 15m dishes will be located in South Africa and Africa. (PHOTO: SKA Obervatory)
By TANG Zhexiao
In 2016, the Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical radio Telescope (FAST), often referred to as "a cauldron in the mountain," was the world's largest single-aperture radio telescope, built by the National Astronomical Observatories of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (NAOC).
Five years later, China officially became a member of the Square Kilometer Array (SKA) Observatory on June 26, 2021, according to the Convention Establishment the Square Kilometer Array Observatory. The Board of Governors of the SKA recently held its third meeting and approved the start of SKA construction in Australia and South Africa on July 1.
The World's Biggest Eye
The SKA project is an international effort to build the world's next largest radio telescope, with eventually more than a square kilometer of collecting area and a lifespan of 50 years.
Unlike previous telescopes, the information-era-born SKA is the world's largest synthetic aperture array radio telescope that uses thousands of dishes and around a million low-frequency antennas. It will enable astronomers to monitor the sky in unprecedented detail and survey the sky much faster than any system currently in existence.
SKA scientists have focused on various key science goals for the telescope.
From examining Einstein's theory of relativity to looking into how the very first stars and galaxies formed after the big bang, the SKA will truly be at the forefront of scientific research if it can break new ground in astronomical observations.
Headquartered in the UK, with one site each in Australia and South Africa, the SKA Observation has seven official members: Australia, China, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, South Africa and the United Kingdom. An additional nine countries participate in the SKAO work as observers.
China: from FAST to SKA
With the opening of FAST to the world in April this year, the international status of China's radio astronomy is rising rapidly.
The SKA, as a major international cooperation project led by the Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST), offers the best opportunity for Chinese radio astronomy and scientific research teams to go global.
As a founding member of the SKA, China is involved in the research and development of six of the 11 international design consortia, including Dish (DSH), Low-Frequency Aperture Array (LFAA), Mid-Frequency Aperture Array (MFAA), Signal and Data Transport (SaDT), Science Data Processor (SDP) and Wideband Single Pixel Feeds (WBSPF).
"FAST is the fruit of fully independent research and development, whereas the SKA shows China's deep involvement in international cooperation. Both projects fully demonstrate China's scientific research capabilities," said Wu Xiangping, China's chief SKA scientist.
Ye Dongbai, Director General of the Department of International Cooperation of MOST, also mentioned that attaching equal importance to self-dependent research, and development and international cooperation, is a conscious path for independent innovation with Chinese characteristics.