UK’s role in world’s largest radio telescope revealed

The UK is to design a computer system that can handle data over 60 times faster than the entire internet for the world’s largest radio telescope.

British engineers will also design the systems to control and connect the quarter of a million of antennas spread across two continents that will form part of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA), it was announced today.

This technology, effectively the nervous system of the SKA, will create the most sensitive radio telescope ever, enabling scientists to study signals from the first billion years after the Big Bang and help explain how stars and galaxies formed.

‘The only really good way of doing that is to essentially increase the physical size of the antennas and the collecting area that you have,’ said Peter Dewdney, the SKA’s architect based at Manchester University’s Jodrell Bank Centre for Astrophysics, from where the entire project will be overseen.

‘We have a situation where we will have antennas scattered in an array configuration covering an area hundreds of kilometres in size. We have to connect all those together and the antennas are each gathering quite incredible amounts of information that has to be transported to a central location to be processed.’


The SKA will include 250,000 and eventually millions of low-frequency aperture antennas.

By the time the SKA starts operation in 2020, it will be producing raw data at an estimated rate of 20,000 petabytes a day. By comparison, the entire internet currently transports about 300 petabytes of data a day. This could rise by a factor of 10 when the final phase of the SKA is finished in 2028.

‘The SKA is one of the exemplar projects for big data challenges in science and is going to be so over the next decade,’ said Prof Paul Alexander of Cambridge University, who will be leading development of the SKA’s data processing equipment.

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November 5, 2013



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