Australia unveils powerful radio telescope

Antennas of the Askap project in Western Australia, sent out 5 October 2012 Antennas of the powerful telescope that aims to discover more about outer space

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Australia has launched one of the world's fastest telescopes tasked with surveying outer space and probing the origins of stars and galaxies.

The Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder (Askap) in Western Australia's outback has 36 antennas with a diameter of 12m (40ft) each.

The A$152m ($155m, £96m) telescope is expected to capture radio images, starting from Friday.

Askap forms part of the world's biggest radio telescope project.

The telescope is located at the Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory, 315km (196 miles) north-east of Geraldton in the Western Australian desert.

Dr John O'Sullivan, from Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, says that while the telescope is not very big, "it is still a very, very powerful survey instrument to start to get a look [at] the origins of galaxies".

"It is the beginning of a great new period, I think," he said.

It will be able to scan the sky much faster than existing telescopes. The location, in a remote area, means there is limited interference from man-made radio signals.

Scientists say that the telescope will generate a huge amount of information. One of the research projects it will be used for is to look for black holes.

The Askap is part of the bigger Square Kilometre Array (SKA) that is set to begin construction in 2016.

SKA, set to become the world's biggest radio telescope project based in South Africa, Australia and New Zealand, aims to answer key questions about the Universe.

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