‘Mobile on moon’ would emit more noise than new SKA-low tech

Scientists who are building the world’s biggest telescope in the heart of the West Australian desert, are grappling with the horns of a dilemma. The site of the SKA-low has to be as technologically quiet as possible. But one of the biggest potential noise generators is the technology itself.

The ‘sound’ of Wi-Fi, satellites and even reversing sensors on cars can deafen the technology on what will one day be the largest radio telescope of its kind in the world.

Researchers therefore also need to be aware of how ‘noisy’ their own machines and technology are, and Australian researchers have recently developed “radio quiet” electronics to go with the silent telescope.

“The SKA-Low telescope will receive exquisitely faint signals that have travelled across the Universe for billions of years,” said Tom Booler, Program Lead for Engineering and Operations at International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR).

“To detect them, the SKA-Low telescope is being built in a pristine radio quiet zone far from the interference created by modern technology.”

The researchers built SMART (Small Modular Aggregation RFoF Trunk) Boxes which will provide electrical power to the telescope, and collect signals for processing.

“It’s so radio quiet at the observatory site that the biggest potential source of interference is the electronics like ours, due to the proximity to the antennas,” says Booler.

“That meant our project had to meet the strictest radio emission requirements across the entire Australian SKA site.”

The antennas on the site are the ‘ears’ of the telescope, eventually there will be 131,072 of them in a spiral pattern spread 74 kilometres across the desert.

The to make the SMART boxes, the team sourced special ‘radio quiet’ parts that emit minimal interference. The parts were then wrapped in a specially designed case to prevent any stray radio waves from escaping.

Booler says “the ‘radio quiet’ results that the ICRAR-designed SMART boxes achieved were to the highest standards in radio astronomy.”

“A mobile phone on the surface of the moon would cause more interference to the antennas than the SMART boxes that sit among them.”

The 12,000 SMART boxes required for the telescope are to be built by Perth-based defence and mining Technology company AVI.

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