Australia and South Africa have been short-listed for the site of an ambitious worldwide astronomy project that includes researchers from the University of Calgary.

Researchers say their Square Kilometre Array radio telescope, the most powerful telescope ever proposed, is getting closer to reality.

When completed in 2020, the telescope will open a window into the far reaches of space and billions of years into the past, showing scientists the universe before the formation of galaxies and stars, said scientist Russ Taylor.

The telescope is also expected to further understanding of how gravity and magnetism work on a cosmic scale. It will also continue the search for planets outside of our solar system.

That data may shed light into the miracle of life, Taylor said Thursday.

"The basic question is, was life preordained or were we just an accident?" he said to the Canadian Press. "It's something that's important for us to know."

1 million square metres of collecting area

The $1-billion project will consist of thousands of radio antenna dishes measuring three to 10 storeys.

The dishes will provide one million square metres of receiving surface, making the telescope 50 times more sensitive and 10,000 times faster respondingthan anything available today, Taylor said.

Australia and South Africa are favoured to host the huge array, but Argentina and China are also in the running.

The planning and researchto build the telescope involves 34 institutes from 15 countries.

The Calgary university is part of the science planning that will guide the telescopic exploration.

It hopes to develop the ultra-sensitive miniature radio amplifiers required for the telescope.

Several countries are in the race to provide the project with affordable radio amplifiers, but at this time, the Calgary university is leading, said engineering professor Jim Haslett.

"It will be nice to see something you built … working to probe the universe in a manner that's never been done before."

With files from the Canadian Press