In 1991, the first concepts were put on paper by scientists and last night the construction of the largest radio telescope in the world started. Astron, the Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy in Dwingeloo, is helping to build the telescope. The project is considered one of the greatest scientific endeavors in history.

    The SKA (Square Kilometer Array) telescopes will be placed in two locations: in the desert in Western Australia and in South Africa. Five main scientific goals have been set in the project, including challenging Einstein’s general theory of relativity and researching extraterrestrial life.

    Michiel van Haarlem, director of the Dutch department of SKA at Astron, is most curious about another goal. “What strikes me most is the mapping of the first stars and galaxies of the universe,” says Van Haarlem.

    SKA’s telescopes can map the sky a thousand times faster than any current system. Astron has a leading role in the Dutch contribution to SKA, partly due to the experiences with the LOFAR telescope between Exloo and Buinen. The website of the SKA project states that LOFAR is a pioneer of the SKA telescope and therefore ASTRON’s input is significant. “The antennas that are built in Australia are very similar to those that are here in the Northern Netherlands,” says Van Haarlem.

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