How Big Can Antennae Get?

The final location for the much hyped Square Kilometer Array has been determined. Instead of one location, it will be spread across South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand. The Southern Hemisphere is a good location: lots of open land, fewer signals to interfere, and a very good view of the Milky Way.

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Radio telescopes are important pieces of scientific equipment. For one thing, a dish to collect radio waves is much cheaper than a curved mirror to focus visible light. Radio waves penetrate clouds better than light, so weather does not affect a radio telescope as much.

It is a well known fact that several small dishes, if arrayed correctly, are equivalent to one very large dish. It is cheaper to make many smaller dishes than one very big one. In the case of the Square Kilometer Array, it will have 3,000 15m dishes. These will be arranged such that they are functionally equivalent to a giant radio dish with an area of one square kilometer. A radio dish of that size will offer unparalleled resolution, capable of picking up very faint signals from the beginning of time itself!

Now, if one really wishes to see the beginning of the universe, you need an even larger antenna. A space based telescope, consisting of many satellites millions of kilometers apart, could have a resolution equivalent to a dish the size of Jupiter. You could see anything you want with such an instrument. Unfortunately, for the time being such a device remains technically and financially unfeasible.


2 Responses

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