Alien life to be found in 50 years?
A new telescope will be able to detect radio emissions from nearby planets (pic NASA)

New telescopes being built are set to unlock secrets of the universe and provide a new resource in the search for intelligent life on other planets.

Three powerful telescopes will be constructed that will provide levels of detail far beyond the capabilities of current technology.

The Square Kilometre Array (SKA) telescope will be the largest and most sensitive radio telescope ever made. It aims to "maximise the ability to explore the unknown" and astronomers will be able to detect incredibly faint signals.

Prof Paul Alexander, head of astrophysics at the Cavendish Laboratory, at Cambridge University, is involved in the development of SKA.

He said: "With SKA we will be able to look back to the time when the first objects formed in the universe, and try to understand how we got from there to what we have now."

Alexander said that the telescope will be used to search for extraterrestrial intelligence (Seti). He said: "The trouble with most Seti searches is that they rely on someone communicating with you just at the time when you're listening.

"SKA is so much more sensitive than anything we've had before. We'll be able to look for evidence of unintentional radio emissions, the equivalent of airport radar, from our nearby stars and planetary systems that may indicate intelligent life."

Renowned astronomer Sir Patrick Moore recently said he is convinced there is alien life out there, saying we will have found evidence of intelligent life within the next 50 years.

Speaking at the launch of his book, The Cosmic Tourist, he said: "We are not far off [making contact]. We have found other planets. The next stage is to detect the atmosphere."

The SKA telescope is being designed by astronomers, engineers and industry partners from 20 countries. Its construction will start in 2016 and it will be operational by 2024.

Another telescope, the Atacama Large Millimetre Array (ALMA), is being built in Chile and will produce detailed pictures of the universe.

Dr John Richer, astrophysicist at the Cavendish Laboratory, said: "ALMA is an incredible piece of engineering that will enable us to zoom in to take pictures with a thousand times better resolution than we can now, so we'll actually see all the detailed structure instead of blobs.

"We're hoping to unlock the secret of how planetary systems form, and to look back in time at the very early Universe."

The final telescope, the Magdalena Ridge Observatory Interferometer (MROI) will look at external galaxies and will "revolutionise" the understanding of astronomy, such as the formation of stars, planets and black holes.

The MROI will produce images that are 100 times the resolution of those produced by the Hubble Space Telescope.

Professor Chris Haniff, astrophysicists at the Cavendish Laboratory, is a system architects for the MROI. He said: "There are models for what's going on but these could be completely wrong - at the moment the detail is far too fine to see.

"The MROI will enable us to see structures that are so small they couldn't otherwise be detected at visible wavelength."