Image courtesy of CSIRO

Image courtesy of CSIRO

Jennifer: The Square Kilometre Array exhibition begins today at the University of Western Australia. For the next two weeks, upper primary and secondary students of science will have the opportunity to participate in hands-on activities focussing on the world’s largrest ground-based astronomy project.

The exhibition title “Out There!” evokes both outer space and the Western Australian outback- one of the short-listed locations for the SKA radio telescope, to be confirmed in 2012. At a cost of $1.8 billion, the telescope will be up to fifty times more sensitive than existing facilities by providing a collecting area of one square kilometre. The SKA will probe the gaseous component of the early universe, potentially providing answers to fundamental questions regarding its birth and evolution. Five key research areas have been proposed, including the sequence of events after the Big Bang, the creation of the first black holes and stars, the rate of expansion of the universe and the possibility of life elsewhere.

“Out There!” features an operational radio telescope, as well as scale models of the SKA, Scitech’s portable planetarium and an astrophotography exhibition. The interactive exhibits will provide insight into the physics behind radio astronomy and explain the fascinating concept of “looking back in time” to the formation of the first stars and galaxies.

A public open day will be held Saturday May 9 to rally support for the SKA. The proposed site for its construction is Mileura station, 620 kilometres north of Perth. If the project goes ahead at Mileura (an Aboriginal word meaning “see a long way”) the Western Australian capital city will become one of the largest centres of astronomy in the world.

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