‘Origins of life’ may be revealed by world’s largest telescope, now under construction

Questions about the origins of life and whether it exists on other planets have captivated countless scientists throughout history. Long-awaited answers may soon be provided by the world’s largest telescope, now being built, which will peer deep into the universe.

The radio telescope, known as SKA-Low, will be composed of thousands of antennae spanning across South Africa and Australia, according to a Dec. 5 press release from the Square Kilometre Array Observatory (SKAO), an intergovernmental organization, which announced that construction is officially underway. Once finished, it will include over one million square meters of collecting area and its image quality will surpass the Hubble Telescope by a factor of 50.

The project is the result of over 30 years of work and is being coordinated by SKAO, which is headquartered in the United Kingdom and is composed of member states from five continents, including Italy, Switzerland and China, according to the release.

The telescope is “destined to define our present and our future,” Anna Maria Bernini, Italian minister of university and research, stated in the release. “It is one of the most ambitious projects ever undertaken.”

Already, around $500 million has been allocated to the project, according to SKAO.

Once completed, the SKA-Low Telescope will address a large variety of astrophysical questions — some of which have likely been pondered for millennia and others of which have been put forward more recently.

How and when did the first stars form? Where do galaxies come from?

Was Einstein right about gravitational waves? What exactly is dark energy? Are we alone in the universe?

These are just some of the queries that the scientists behind the project seek to answer, according to a SKAO construction proposal.

However, space enthusiasts should not hold their breath for answers as the manufacture and assembly of the “world’s largest scientific instrument” is not due to be completed before the end of the decade. According to SKAO’s timeline, the telescope will be finished in 2030.

Perhaps then, information extracted from the cosmos, “murmurings from the deep universe,” as one official put it, will help answer some of humanity’s most enduring questions.

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