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Indian imprint on world largest radio telescope

New Delhi: The world`s largest and most sensitive radio telescope, being built in South Africa and Australia, will have a distinct Indian imprint.

Every movement of the Square Kilometer Array (SKA) telescope will be guided by a system being developed by a global team of scientists led by Indians.

Scientists from the National Centre for Radio Astrophysics (NCRA), Raman Research Institute (RRI) and leading software research organisations will be involved in the design and implementation of the main control and monitoring system for this complex radio telescope.

"India will have the leadership role in developing the control and monitoring system for the telescope," Ishwara Chandra, a senior scientist at NCRA, told PTI.

A week ago, the members of the SKA organisation decided to build the two-billion-dollar telescope in South Africa and Australia, an announcement welcomed by the leadership and the scientific communities of both the countries.

Currently, India is an associate member of the SKA Organisation and is expected to become a full member later this year.

When completed by around 2024, the telescope will be 50 times more sensitive than current instruments and capable of spotting a television signal from a nearby star.

"Scientists in South Africa are very happy with the site decision and are eager to start work with their Australian colleagues on implementing the SKA," South African Science and Technology Minister Naledi Pandor told PTI.

The SKA will be used to search the universe for answers about how stars and galaxies are formed and how galaxies and the universe have evolved over the past 14 billion years.

The Indian team will also be involved in development of some of the hardware for the SKA, including parts of the receiver system for the low frequency aperture array, Chandra said.

The SKA consists of two quite distinct components — one working at low frequencies and one working at mid frequencies, the South African minister said.

She said the two components used very different antenna technologies and operate independently which makes it quite easy to separate them and build them on separate sites.

"Even if the SKA had been allocated to one country the two components would have been separated by quite a large distance," Pandor said.

South Africa, together with eight African partner countries, has been allocated the mid-frequency dish array, and Australia has been allocated the low frequency aperture array, she said.

"The higher elevation of the South African site makes it more suitable for observing mid frequencies," Pandor said.

On the cost factor, she said the capital and running costs for the SKA will come from contributions from all of the members of the SKA Organisation.

"In the SKA Phase-I, there may be a saving on costs because the split site scenario allows the use of existing infrastructure on both sites," Pandor said.

In the first phase, South Africa will add 190 dishes to its existing MeerKAT array radio telescope in the Karoo region in the Northern Cape.

Australia will add 60 dishes to its SKA Pathfinder and install a large number of omni-directional dipole antennas.

The arrangement will enable the Australian site to have a wide-field survey capability, while South Africa will be able to look deeply into a narrow part of the sky, Chandra said.

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