Montage of the main research topics that the SKA will revolutionise. Clockwise from top: the first black holes and stars, galaxy evolution, the nature of gravity, cosmic magnetism, the cradle of life. Canadian scientists will play important roles in all these fields and more.
PHOTO BY: SKA Organisation; Djorgovski et al.; C. Reed; NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSC; NASA/Standford Lockheed-Martin Institute for Space Research’s TRACE team
Observations with the SKA will provide answers to some of the most important outstanding questions in astronomy today:
- Was Einstein right about gravity?
- What generates magnetism in space?
- How were the first black holes and stars formed?
- How do galaxies evolve?
- What is dark energy?
- Are we alone?
Canadian researchers lead the world in many of the science areas that the SKA will revolutionise.
The most stringent tests of gravity will come from recording the pulsed radio emission of rotating neutron stars called “pulsars”, which act as precise clocks spread across the sky. Canada is home to two of the world’s leading radio pulsar research groups, at McGill University and the University of British Columbia. Both are heavily engaged in planning surveys to detect and time pulsars with the SKA, where new technologies and higher sensitivities are poised to revolutionise pulsar studies.
The way in which matter behaves near sources of strong gravity plays a crucial role in shaping some of the most explosive transients in the Universe. Canadian astronomers at McGill University, the National Research Council, the University of Alberta, the University of Toronto, and York University will combine new techniques and algorithms with the unparalleled sensitivity of the SKA to help reveal the nature of extreme variable objects such as fast radio bursts, supernova explosions, microquasars, accreting black holes and gamma-ray bursts.
Decades of research have now revealed that magnetism pervades the Universe. Magnetic fields play a crucial but poorly understood role in controlling the formation and evolution of objects across an impressive range of physical scales, from tiny planets to giant galaxy filaments. Canadian scientists at the National Research Council of Canada, University of Calgary and University of Toronto have pioneered the study of the polarising effect of magnetic fields on light using radio telescopes, and they are poised to exploit the unprecedented sensitivity of the SKA to unveil cosmic magnetism in our own Galaxy and across the Universe.
Hydrogen is, by far, the most abundant element in the Universe, and hydrogen gas clouds out to the farthest reaches of the cosmos shine at radio frequencies that the SKA can detect. These clouds permeate galaxies like the Milky Way: astronomers can therefore use them study both the evolution of galaxies themselves, as well as their acceleration through space that is thought to arise from Dark Energy. Canadian researchers from McGill University, the National Research Council, the Royal Military College of Canada, the University of British Columbia and the University of Toronto, will use the SKA to measure the orbits of galactic gas clouds in millions of individual galaxies, as well as the glow of hydrogen gas heated by the very first stars and black holes in the Universe.