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World's Most Powerful Telescope In Oz Outback
If there is life outside our planet, a new "super telescope" unveiled in the Australian outback could be the best hope yet of finding it.
Some 400 miles from the nearest city in Western Australia, the colossal new radio telescope consists of more than 30 dishes linked together.
Dr Megan Clark, chief executive of Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), said: "What's really different is that we used to be able to look at small parts of the sky and look at the super galaxies.
"We could only really do that from an area about the size of your small fingernail. Now, with this new leap forward, we can scan areas of the sky as big as your hand.
"We can see large parts of the sky, we can start to really scan and ... have a panorama of the universe in a way that we've never had before."
The Australian SKA Pathfinder (ASKAP) telescope, at the remote Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory in the Western Australian desert, is made up of 36 antennae, each 12 metres (40ft) in diameter.
Australia has been a formidable strength in global radio astronomy and this project has been years in the planning.
The £90m facility can survey the sky much faster than existing telescopes, with the antennae sensitive to faint radiation from the Milky Way, giving it the ability to detect distant galaxies.
Speaking at the official opening, chief scientist Brian Boyle said studying the radio waves would tell astronomers unique details about the cosmos.
He said: "They can tell about the gas from which stars were formed and about exotic objects - pulsars and quasars - that really push the boundaries of our knowledge of the physical laws in the universe.
"Radio astronomy also gives us an insight into the very beginnings of the universe."
Science minister Chris Evans said the telescope was a major step forward for innovation in Australia.
He added: "This will be 50 years' worth of scientific research performed in Australia, providing world-leading scientific knowledge about our galaxies.
"It will be the world's most powerful radio astronomy telescope and has huge capabilities way beyond anything that currently exists."
The Australian telescope will eventually be linked to similar facilities in South Africa and New Zealand, linking 3,000 dishes as part of the "Square Kilometre Array".
It will be 50 times more powerful than current radio telescopes and will explore exploding stars, black holes, dark energy and traces of the universe's origins some 14 billion years ago.
Mr Boyle said the ASKAP telescope would see more than 350 researchers from over 130 institutions undertaking 10 survey science projects.