The Square Kilometre Array (SKA) will be an array of telescopes, spread over hundreds of kilometres, in two different continents. In the first phase there will be about 200 dishes in South Africa’s Karoo region, and over 130,000 low frequency antennas in Western Australia’s Murchison Shire, that will monitor the sky in unprecedented detail, in a complementary range of radio frequencies. The two sites are chosen for co-hosting the SKA based on the characteristics of the atmosphere above the sites and their radio quietness, which comes from being some of the most remote yet accessible locations on the Earth. The unprecedented sensitivity of the SKA’s receivers will allow insights into the formation and evolution of the first stars and galaxies after the Big Bang, the role of cosmic magnetism, the nature of gravity, and possibly even life beyond Earth, not to mention serendipitous discoveries that are expected when something so much more sensitive than any existing facility is built. Indian scientists are involved in many of the SKA’s Science Working Groups, and India co-chairs the Solar Physics WG.
The SKA will push several areas of technology to the next level, spanning antenna design, radio frequency electronics and optical fibre technologies, low-power electronics, signal processing, high performance computing, as well as complex system management software. Some of the most challenging innovations will be in the area of software and computing, making it a truly “IT telescope”. Whilst 13 countries including India are currently funding the SKA, around 100 organisations in about 20 countries representing over 1,000 scientists and engineers are participating in the design and development of the SKA.
The National Centre for Radio Astrophysics (NCRA) in Pune is leading India’s participation in the SKA, which is funded by the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) and Department of Science and Technology (DST), Government of India. SKA-related initiatives in India are overseen by the SKA-India Consortium (SKAIC) which has almost twenty member organisations from all over the country. India has led the design of the Telescope Manager, which is the brain and nervous system of the entire SKA Observatory, and interacts with all the other elements to run the Observatory. The complex software to be used for the end-to-end management of the entire Observatory has been developed leveraging the expertise of Indian IT industries and utilizing next generation tools and ideas to tackle the complex problem. Indian institutions and industry have also been involved in technology and science with the SKA precursor and pathfinder facilities such as Murchison Widefield Array (MWA) Observatory in Australia and the Giant Metrewave Radio Telescope (GMRT) Observatory in India.
End-to-end observatory management system, with sophisticated algorithms and software, suitable for management of any complex, distributed system. Prototype version being deployed at NCRA’s GMRT observatory, which is SKA pathfinder facility.
These have been developed by the teams from NCRA as part of the upgrade of the GMRT, a SKA pathfinder facility.
These have been developed by RRI for the MWA project – a SKA precursor facility, and also by NCRA for the upgraded GMRT – a SKA pathfinder facility.
National Centre for Radio Astrophysics (NCRA), Pune
Raman Research Institute (RRI), Bengaluru
Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics (IUCAA), Pune
Saha Institute of Nuclear Physics (SINP), Kolkata
Physical Research Laboratory (PRL), Ahmedabad
Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER) Mohali
Indian Statistical Institute (ISI) Kolkata
Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi
Presidency University, Kolkata
Birla Institute of Technology and Science (BITS) Goa
Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR), Mumbai
Indian Institute of Space Science and Technology (IIST),Thiruvananthapuram
M.G. University, Kottayam
St. Thomas College, Kozhencherry
Savitribai Phule Pune University, Pune
Tata Consultancy Services, Pune
Persistent Systems Limited, Pune
NVIDIA India, Pune
HiQ Electronics, Hosur
Smile Electronics, Bengaluru
Kamal Electronics, Bengaluru
SKA stands for Square Kilometre Array. This reflects the original desire to construct a telescope with up to one square kilometre in total collecting surface through an array of antennas distributed over a much larger area. This dates back from the early 1990s, and although the original name remains, the concept has expanded still further. The collecting area of the first phase of the SKA telescope (SKA1), which represents just a fraction of the full SKA, is already almost half a square kilometre. The full SKA will largely exceed one square kilometer.
The Square Kilometre Array (SKA) is an international project to build a radio telescope tens of times more sensitive and hundreds of times faster at mapping the sky than today’s best radio astronomy facilities. Simply put: the world’s largest radiotelescope. The SKA is not a single telescope, but a collection of various types of antennas, called an array, to be spread over long distances, across two continents Africa and Australia. The SKA will be the world’s largest public science data project. Once completed it will generate data at a rate more than 10 times today’s global Internet traffic. The SKA telescope will be powerful enough to detect very faint radio signals emitted by cosmic sources billions of light years away from Earth, those signals emitted in the first billion years of the Universe (more than 13 billion years ago) when the first galaxies and stars started forming.
The SKA will be used to answer fundamental questions of science and about the laws of nature, such as: how did the Universe, and the stars and galaxies contained in it, form and evolve? Was Einstein’s theory of relativity correct? What is the nature of ‘dark matter’ and ‘dark energy’? What is the origin of cosmic magnetism? Is there life somewhere else in the Universe? But, perhaps, the most significant discoveries to be made by the SKA are those we cannot predict.
SKA related initiatives in India are overseen by the “SKA India Consortium”, which has about twenty member organisations from all over the country. The science initiatives in different areas are coordinated by the SKA India Science Working Groups (SWGs). These Indian SWGs have been instrumental in creating awareness related to the SKA within the Indian scientists by organising talks, workshops, meetings etc. The Indian SWGs have not only been able to attract radio astronomers, but also astronomers working in other wave bands and theoreticians interested in model building and signal predictions.
On the technical front, India has been involved in designing the Telescope Manager (TM), which includes all the hardware and software necessary to control the telescope and associated infrastructure. This is a collaborative efforts between the government-funded scientific institutions and industry partners. Recently, the SKA TM Consortium, led by India, successfully completed their “Critical Design Review” and was the first among the various SKA design consortia to do so. In the future, India is looking forward to get involved in the technical work related to the construction of the telescope.
India’s contribution can be broadly divided into two classes: technical and scientific.
On the technical front, India has been leading in designing the Telescope Manager of the SKA. This is the component includes all the hardware and software necessary to control the telescope and associated infrastructure. The design work is now complete and India is looking forward to get involved in the construction of the SKA. In addition, India is also interested in other technical aspects like the low-frequency aperture arrays, signal processing and so on.
On the science front, Indian astronomers are involved in almost all the science areas relevant for the SKA. They are carrying out research which involves using data from the SKA precursors and pathfinders like uGMRT and MWA, and also theoretical work for interpreting the data.
The SKA-related activities in India are coordinated by the “SKA-India Consortium”. The members of the consortium are various organisations like the research institutes, IITs, IISERs, universities, colleges and so on. At present about 20 organisations are members of this consortium.
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