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Pulsar science with the SKA

The SKA (Square Kilometre Array) is an international science and enineering project to build the world's largest radio telescope, with a collecting area of one million square meters. The telescope will be composed of a mixture of 15-m conventional radio dishes and thousends of dipole antennas, enabling the telescope to observe radio-waves from 100-MHz to 10-GHz. The telescope headquarters are located on the site of Manchester's Jodrell Bank Observatory, and will be built in Southern Africa and Western Australia - two of the most radio-quiet zones in the world.

Close up of the dipole array situated in Western Australia
Close up artist rendition of the low-frequency dipole array in Western Australia, with an array of SKA dishes in the background. [SKA Organisation]
Artists impresion of the dish array situated in Soutern Africa.
Artist rendition of the SKA Mid-frequency dish array in Southern Africa. [SKA Organisation]

Pulsar astrophysics is one of five key-science goals for the SKA telescope. The telescope will allow us to discover essencially all radio pulsars in our own galaxy, including exotic objects such as pulsars orbiting black holes. These objects will put Einstein's theory of General Relativity to the ultimate test and also allow us to probe the some of the most extreme and mysterious objects in the known universe. The SKA telescope will also use observations of the fastest spinning pulsars to detect gravitational wave raiation and to produce an astronomical timescale capable of rivaling the worlds best atomic clocks.

To do this groundbreaking work will require real-time analysis of the incredible data rate of 10 terabytes per second &emdash; that's the equivilent of streaming one million HD movies at once! This requires a computer capable of performing 10 million billion operations per second, which is roughly equivilent to the worlds most powerful supercomputer today. Leading the design of this pulsar discovery machine are JBCA scientists Dr Ben Stappers and Dr Michael Keith, who are working with an international team to ensure that the world's most powerful telescope is fully equipt to fulfil it's promice of sparking an exciting new era of astronomy and astrophysics discoveries.

By: Dr Michael Keith (JBCA)