SKA to be split between SA and Australia

Radio telescope dishes of the KAT-7 Array shift their alignment in a long exposure picture taken at the proposed South African site for the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) telescope near Carnavon. (Mike Hutchings, Reuters)

Radio telescope dishes of the KAT-7 Array shift their alignment in a long exposure picture taken at the proposed South African site for the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) telescope near Carnavon. (Mike Hutchings, Reuters)

“We have decided on a dual site approach,” said SKA board chairperson John Womersley at a press conference held at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport, following a meeting of the SKA organisation’s members in the Dutch capital.

“We will be installing equipment in both Australia and South Africa and together they will form part of a global observatory,” he said.

Both South Africa and Australia were competing to win the $2-billion contract – which will now increase in cost – for the SKA, an instrument that will be 50 times more sensitive than today’s most powerful radio telescopes.

The decision for a “dual site solution” was taken after a recent meeting by a SKA working group, which Womersley said “made the best use of both the significant investments those countries made into astronomy”.

Scientists hope the SKA, a massive radio telescope, will shed light on fundamental questions about the universe including how it began, why it is expanding and whether it contains life beyond our planet.

The eagerly awaited decision now means that engineers can connect aperture arrays at Australia’s core site at Mileura station, about 100 kilometres west of Meekathara in western Australia.

Other parts of the telescope are distributed across Australia and New Zealand. South Africa’s site in the arid Karoo region will have dish arrays connected by a remote link to a network of dishes stretching across southern and eastern Africa and as far away as Ghana.

Some of the equipment will be based in South Africa, and some of it will be based in Australia, corresponding to the original design of the telescope, Womersley added. – Sapa

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