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Videotaping the universe

Astronomy has big ambitions. Soon its new telescopes will stretch across continents

A computer simulation of SKA focal plane arrays and small dishes, 2008

It’s like a page torn from a Dan Dare comic strip, where the undeveloped world meets the ultra future: a barren landscape of rock and bush, peppered with radio antennae so sophisticated they have yet to be invented. But it won’t be on another planet, or involve space travel. Rather, it will be the world’s most sophisticated telescope—a series of hundreds of antennae stretching across thousands of kilometres of Australian or southern African desert.

The planned square kilometre array, or SKA, is a giant camcorder scanning…

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