New Telescope Could Save World Billions Of Dollars

Lee Rannals for — Your Universe Online

A new telescope in Australia could potentially help save the world billions of dollars by providing early warning of massive solar storms.

The Murchison Widefield Array (MWA) radio telescope was unveiled on Friday and its ability to keep an eye on the Sun could provide early warning to prevent damage to communication satellites, electric power grids and GPS navigation systems.

The low-frequency radio telescope will be capable of detecting and monitoring massive solar storms, such as the one that cut power in Canada in 1989 for six million people.

Experts warned back in 2011 that a major solar storm could result in damage to integral power supplies and communications networks of up to $2 trillion. The sun will be entering its solar maximum in 2013 and the increased activity could mean an increase in solar storms.

The new telescope will help identify the trajectory of solar storms, quadrupling the warning period currently provided by near-Earth satellites.

“The MWA will keep watch on the Sun during the upcoming period of maximum solar activity,” Director of the MWA and Professor of Radio Astronomy at Curtin University, Steven Tingay, said in a statement. “It has the potential to deliver very real and immediate benefits to the entire global population. It is a tremendous achievement and testament to the innovative technologies that have been developed to support this instrument.”

The telescope will offer scientists a view of the entire history of the Universe as well, helping astronomers gain a better understanding of how the early Universe formed.

“Understanding how the dramatic transformation took place soon after the Big Bang, over 13 billion years ago, is the final frontier for astrophysicists like me. It has taken eight years to get to this point and it is incredibly exciting to have completed construction and to be collecting scientific data from the MWA,” Professor Tingay said in the statement.

He said preliminary testing of MWA has showed the telescope’s powerful capabilities. These early tests already achieved results that are “on par with the best results ever achieved in the search for the first stars and galaxies,” Tingay said.

“We anticipate a 10-fold improvement in performance when the full capabilities of the MWA are pressed into service in early 2013,” Tingay told a group who attended the telescope´s unveiling.

Professor Brian Schmidt, 2011 Nobel Laureate and member of the Murchison Widefield Array Board, said for the first time, astronomers will be able to look at the transformation of the Universe, rather than an environment filled with just hydrogen and helium.

“This telescope is an exciting and necessary part of the process of discovery and I see it as a step towards, if not the tool for, an important scientific breakthrough,” said Schmidt.