October 8, 2012 - In the remote Australian outback, scientists have launched the world's fastest radio
telescope which will exponentially increase astronomers' ability to survey the universe, mapping black holes and shedding new light on the origins of galaxies.
The Australia Square Kilometre Array
Pathfinder (ASKAP), with an array of 36 antennas each 12 meters (40 feet) across, started peering into the universe on Friday from a far-flung cattle station in Western Australia
The £96m ($155.18 million) telescope will 'listen' to radio waves from the cosmos that might give astronomers insights into the beginnings of the universe.
On its first day in full operation, ASKAP will collect more data than is currently contained in all current radio astronomy archives or the U.S. Library of Congress.
'Radio waves tell us unique things about the cosmos, about the gas from which stars were formed, and about exotic objects, pulsars and quasars, that really push the boundaries of our knowledge of the physical laws in the universe,' Brian Boyle, the director of the project at Australia's national scientific research organization, told reporters this week.
The ASKAP telescope is located in the Shire of Murchison, an area of 50,000 square kms (19,300 square miles), or the size of Costa Rica, with barely 120 people.
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The location is ideal because it is 'radio quiet', or lacks man-made radio signals that would interfere with the antennas picking up astronomical radio signals.
Using new 'radio cameras' called phased array feeds, the telescope will be able scan the sky much more rapidly than existing radio telescopes and will give the telescope a field of view about 150 times the area of the full Moon.