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Largest telescope plans unveiled

4 October 07 17:04 GMT

Jodrell Bank observatory in Cheshire is to become the headquarters of a global plan to co-ordinate the next generation of radio telescopes.

The Square Kilometre Array (SKA) will be 50 times more sensitive than the current most powerful radio telescope.

Thousands of antennas will be placed in either Australia or South Africa, and will be co-ordinated via the centre. Construction is due to begin in 2012.

Scientists will be able to detect the first stars and galaxies.

Professor Phil Diamond, director of the Jodrell Bank Centre for Astrophysics, said: "The SKA looks set to become one of the great scientific projects of the 21st Century."

He described how Jodrell Bank had played a major role in radio astronomy over the past 50 years and that the £1bn project would be fully operational from 2020.

Professor Richard Schilizzi, the international SKA director, added: "This powerful new telescope will greatly extend our knowledge of the universe.

"Not only will it improve our understanding of objects ranging from black holes to the earliest stars and galaxies, but it is also bound to discover as yet unknown phenomena."

The 1.5bn-euro project involves astronomers and engineers in 17 countries.

The announcement was timed to coincide with the Sputnik anniversary because the Lovell telescope at the observatory was the only facility in the world capable of tracking the satellite's carrier rocket when it launched in 1957.

A number of other projects were also outlined including one to use flying mirrors to deflect earthbound asteroids, and another to use flying robots to explore Mars.

Details were also given of how instrumentation developed for the Beagle 2 and Rosetta missions is being turned into a cost-effective tool for diagnosing tuberculosis.

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