Radio telescope project to study universe origins

A high-performance radio telescope that will seek out deep space radio signals to help scientists learn more about the creation of the universe is under development by a Netherlands-based space foundation and IBM.

In a partnership announced this week, the Netherlands Foundation for Research in Astronomy (ASTRON) said it will get help from IBM on several facets of the radio telescope design, including the engineering and manufacturing of customized, high-performance analog and mixed-signal processing chips that will eventually be used to capture weak radio signals from deep space.

The chips will be used in thousands of specialized antennas to be located in remote sites to create a large-scale prototype radio telescope, called SKADS/EMBRACE, for ASTRON. Eventually the technology will be used in a proposal for ASTRON's (SKA), which when built could be the world's largest radio telescope, according to the group. The group said the array will be used to learn more about a wide range of celestial objects in deep space, including gamma-ray bursts, planets outside of our solar system, evolving galaxies and dark matter. The SKA project will create a huge radio telescope made up of hundreds of small collection stations that will form a larger picture to aid researchers.

Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Radio astronomy uses radio telescopes to detect, or "see," radio wave emissions from far-off objects in space. They differ from optical telescopes, which use lenses to literally see objects in deep space. Radio telescopes also differ from optical telescopes because clouds and other atmospheric conditions have no negative effects on their use. By using a large array of many special antennas for the proposed radio telescope projects, researchers will be able to gather the faintest radio signals ever collected from deep space, according to project organizers.

Raj Desai, vice president of aerospace and defense at IBM, said the ASTRON project will also involve IBM in analyzing data from the radio signals that will eventually be collected by the radio telescopes as prototypes are built and tested. IBM will also be involved in other design work.