Britain’s famous Jodrell Bank observatory has been given a special present to celebrate its 50th anniversary – it will be the nerve centre for a new telescope that will be the biggest in the world.
But it will be so powerful that it could also make Man’s first contact with aliens by tuning into TV or radar signals from ET.
The new £1 billion telescope, called the Single Kilometre Array, will be made up of thousands of antennae spread across nearly 2,000 miles (3,000 km). Half will be located in a central region just three miles (5 km) wide.
They will work together as an electronic ear so sensitive that it will be able to detect signals from transmitters like those used at international airports. Astronomers are confident that if ET is broadcasting from a star in our Milky Way galaxy, then they will find him.
Jodrell Bank, in Cheshire, is part of the University of Manchester. Its own giant dish, which is one of Britain’s most famous landmarks, immediately hit the headlines when it tuned into the first satellite, Sputnik 1, in 1957.
This weekend it will become the world’s biggest cinema when movies are projected onto the dish.
The new observatory will be built across a remote region of either Australia or South Africa to minimise man-made radio interference, and will involve astronomers and engineers in 17 countries.
Professor Phil Diamond, Director of the Jodrell Bank Centre for Astrophysics, said: “The Square Kilometre Array looks set to become one of the great scientific projects of the 21st century. We are very proud that its global headquarters will be here in Manchester.”
Professor Richard Schilizzi, International SKA Director, said: “This powerful new telescope will greatly extend our knowledge of the universe. Not only will it improve our understanding of objects ranging from black holes to the earliest stars and galaxies, but it is also bound to discover as yet unknown phenomena.”
Work on building the new telescope is due to begin in 2012 with it becoming fully operational by 2020.
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