Joe Lazio of the Naval Research Laboratory began his plenary talk this morning with a statement that in the 20th century we discovered our place in the Universe, but in the 21st century we are beginning to understand the Universe we inhibit. This is in part due to the fantastic array of space- and ground-based telescopes reaching deeper and deeper into our Universe, but, "the Universe is patiently waiting for our wits to grow sharper."
The Square Kilometer Array (SKA) is set to continue this theme, looking back to the Universe's transition from a largely neutral environment to a largely ionised one. Supported by other ambitious telescopes that are in various stages of development and construction such as ALMA and JWST, these telescopes will peek at the first stars and galaxies. The SKA will also use radio waves as a tool for detecting elusive gravitational waves, and will be used in the field of astrobiology to search for extrasolar planets and to study their chemistry.
Known as the 'international radio telescope for the 21st century', the SKA will have two sites: one in Australia and one in Africa, with antennas grouped into stations to provide one million square metres of aperture. It will begin its early science phase in 2017, and be fully operational at a range of frequencies by 2023.