Full steam ahead! Construction starts on one of the biggest ever radio telescopes at our Western Australian observatory.

Inyarrimanha Ilgari Bundara, our Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory, will soon host a brand new radio telescope. Construction of the SKA-Low telescope by the international SKA Observatory (SKAO) commenced on Wajarri Country this week.

Two telescopes like no other

The SKAO is building two telescopes: SKA-Low in Australia and SKA-Mid in South Africa. The two telescopes will combine to make the largest radio observatory in the world.

SKA-Low will be unique, made up of more than 130,000 Christmas tree-shaped antennas (like the ones animated in the video above). The antennas will be grouped in ‘stations’ of 256, and the entire SKA-Low telescope will have 512 stations.

They’ll spread over our radio astronomy observatory in Western Australia (WA) in a spiral pattern. The longest stretch between antenna stations will be 74 kilometres.

A long time coming

Rebecca Wheadon is the manager of our WA observatory site. Rebecca and her team have been busily getting the site ready for SKA-Low telescope construction.

“I’ve been working on the SKA project myself for more than a decade, first in industry and now with Australia’s national science agency, CSIRO,” Rebecca said.

“Building telescopes as large and innovative as these takes a lot of preparation. This milestone has been a long time coming, the SKA project was first talked about in the 1990s.”

Realistic high-angle artist impression of the SKA-Low telescope which is made up of Christmas-tree shaped antennas. Red dirt and trees can be seen around the installation.
SKA-Low telescope artist impressions. Image Credit: DISR

Science across the world

The SKA Observatory involves 16 countries. Australia and South Africa are telescope hosts and SKAO headquarters are based in the United Kingdom.

“Our observatory in WA started in 2009 to help bring the SKA project to Australia,” Rebecca said.

“In 2012 the site selection came down to South Africa and Australia as co-hosts. Now, in 2022, our WA observatory has grown to make room for the SKA-Low telescope.”

Working together to share the sky and stars

Australian companies are helping build the telescope, and we’re part of many of the contracts that are making it happen.

We are working with industry partners Aurecon to manage the large contracts to build the infrastructure – roads, power, data connections and buildings – on site.

We’re also working with university partners like the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR) at Curtin University and the University of Western Australia to design software that will be part of the brains of the telescope.

But that’s not all! We are also the operations partner for the SKA Observatory in Australia. That means most of the SKAO team running the telescope are part of Team CSIRO.

We also have a whole group of talented radio astronomers who just can’t wait to start using the SKA telescopes in the coming years.

We are all working together to share more of the sky and stars with the world. We’re living up to the Wajarri name for our observatory – Inyarrimanha Ilgari Bundara – which means ‘sharing sky and stars’.

Three Indigenous men (Godfrey Simpson, Geoffrey Mongoo and Gerard Boddington) who are painted up are performing a Wajarri cultural dance in front of an SKAO sign. The sign reads: "SKAO One global observatory, two telescopes, three sites"
Wajarri cultural dance performed by Godfrey Simpson, Geoffrey Mongoo and Gerard Boddington at the on-site celebration of commencement of construction of the SKAO’s SKA-Low telescope at Inyarrimanha Ilgari Bundara, the CSIRO Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory. Image Credit: SKAO

Australia on the world stage

Hosting the SKA-Low telescope in Australia is displaying Australian talent to the world.

“Not only do we manage the observatory site, but we are also helping build the SKA-Low telescope itself,” Rebecca said.

“We’ve been leaders in radio astronomy for more than 70 years, both in looking at the Universe and in building the technology that enables the science.

“We are putting our Australian smarts to good use in the SKA project, alongside our industry and university partners.”

It will take about eight years to build the SKA-Low telescope. However, it will produce some amazing science even before it’s finished.

What a time to be involved in exploring the Universe!

We acknowledge the Wajarri Yamaji as Traditional Owners and native title holders of Inyarrimanha Ilgari Bundara, our Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory.

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