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scientists in India will now also be part of the international mega-science project, the Square Kilometre Array Observatory (SKAO), that will function as the world’s largest radio telescope. Considering the multinational collaboration, SKAO was established as an intergovernmental organisation in 2021 following years of negotiation in which India, too, participated Countries have to sign, and ratify, the SKAO convention to formally become members. The Government’s approval for joining the project, with a financial sanction of Rs 1,250 crore, is the first step towards the ratification.

What is Square Kilometre Array Observatory?

  • The SKAO is not a single telescope but an array of thousands of antennas, to be installed in remote radio-quiet locations in South Africa and Australia, that will operate as one large unit meant to observe and study celestial phenomena.
  • Some of the countries taking part in building the SKA include the UK, Australia, South Africa, Canada, China, France, India, Italy and Germany.
  • The SKA will also search for gravitational waves but is meant to study a range of phenomena being able to peer much deeper into the universe — more than 3,000 trillion km — to study galaxies and stars in greater detail.
  • These are aimed at advancing the scope of astronomical observations for improving the overall understanding of the universe and its evolution.
  • India’s main contribution to the SKA is in the development, and operation, of the Telescope Manager element, the “neural network” or the software that will make the telescope work.
  • NCRA, a unit of the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, which operates India’s largest network of radio telescopes called the Giant Metrewave Radio Telescope (GMRT) near Pune, led an international team from nine institutions and seven countries to develop the software.
  • GMRT is the world’s largest and most sensitive radio telescope operating within the 110-1,460 Megahertz frequency range. This unique telescope has, so far, yielded remarkable scientific results after studying pulsars, supernovae, quasars, galaxies and its observation time has always remained oversubscribed.
  • The SKA-India consortium comprises engineers and scientists from over 20 national-level research institutions which include: NCRA; Aryabhatta Institute of Observational Sciences; Inter University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics, IIT-Kharagpur; IISER, Mohali and Thiruvananthapuram; TIFR; Raman Research Institute; Indian Institute of Science and Physical Research Laboratory.