6 Oct 2012

Outback telescope now open

3:18 pm on 6 October 2012

The first stage in the Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder was officially opened at a ceremony in the Western Australia Outback on Friday.

The ABC reports the sparsely-populated region was selected as the site because it is considered one of the quietest radio locations on Earth.

The observatory comprises 36 radio antenna dishes covering an area of 126 sq km. Signals from each antenna are electronically combined to simulate a dish much larger in size.

According to CSIRO, the telescope will allow astronomers to investigate fundamental questions involving dark matter, dark energy, the nature of gravity, the origins of the first stars and galaxies, and more.

"We'll understand how galaxies work, we'll look back into the beginnings of the universe," said chief executive Megan Clarke.

In 2016, a further 60 dishes will be built as part of The Square Kilometre Array, which will extend into New Zealand and southern Africa, where several thousand antennas will be built.

"It's truly an international collaboration," Australia's Science Minister Chris Evans said.

"One of the great things about astronomy is that it has no international borders. Astronomy is about the sky, the universe, which no individual country owns.''

"This project has the capacity to inspire not only Australians, but many people around the world and inspire in our young people an interest in science," Senator Evans said.