Staring into space: SKA’s noble (not Nobel) quest

Vishnu Vejjala, research chair in theoretical particle cosmology at the University of the Witwatersrand, said the $2-billion SKA was simply too large a project to win Nobel prizes.
“Large experiments these days are disadvantaged when it comes to winning Nobel prizes. You have thousands of people working on one project. The Nobel is usually awarded to teams of three people at most.
“The sheer size of this project will make it very difficult to award a Nobel prize.”
The measure of success for the SKA, which would be the world’s most powerful radio telescope, would be the way it resolved outstanding problems in physics – like how galaxies were formed and secrets around “dark matter”, Vejjala said.

Other projects and satellite missions are collecting similar data to what the SKA will collect, but the real benefit of the telescope will be the scale of information it picks up.
“The SKA lets us collect large amounts of data on a wide scale at different radio wavelengths. It is able to see things in greater detail. The sheer amount of data you are collecting is a positive.”
Greater detail
An organisation such as Nasa (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) would benefit from SKA in the complementary projects it had with the telescope.
One of these is Nasa’s Wmap project, which maps cosmic microwave backgrounds.
“If SKA can produce new data Nasa will go ahead with new experiments such as the Wmap project,” he said.
University of KwaZulu-Natal astronomer Caroline Zunckel, who is a co-participant in the MeerKAT telescope project, said SKA had the potential to discover something “very exciting”.
“The SKA, being considerably more powerful, will certainly deliver exciting results,” she said.
One of the key discoveries the project could make is in “dark energy”. Dark energy, which makes up most of the universe, does not produce light, is not tangible in any way and behaves in the opposite way to normal matter.
“Dark energy is the entity that is causing the universe to expand in an accelerated fashion,” she said.
“We have yet to establish the exact physics behind it, but the SKA could make some real progress … [on] dark energy.”
Main site
The SKA will also study the formation of planets outside our solar system and would scan for radio signals from extraterrestrial life.
The SKA site advisory committee said on Friday the project would be split between South Africa and Australia. Justin Jonas, associate director for science and engineering at the SKA, said the project marked a turning point in Africa as a destination for science and engineering.
South Africa will construct two of the three SKA receiver components. The SKA would be 50 times more sensitive than the most powerful existing radio telescopes.
It will have about 3 000 receiving dishes across South and East Africa.
South Africa’s main site will be outside Carnarvon in the Karoo. Australia’s core site will be the Mileura station, about 100km west of Meekathara in western Australia. – Sapa

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever. But it comes at a cost. Advertisers are cancelling campaigns, and our live events have come to an abrupt halt. Our income has been slashed.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years. We’ve survived thanks to the support of our readers, we will need you to help us get through this.

To help us ensure another 35 future years of fiercely independent journalism, please subscribe.


Two dead in new ANC KwaZulu-Natal killings

A Mtubatuba councillor and a Hammarsdale ANC Youth League leader were shot yesterday near their homes

Inside Facebook’s big bet on Africa

New undersea cables will massively increase bandwidth to the continent

No back to school for teachers just yet

Last week the basic education minister was adamant that teachers will return to school on May 25, but some provinces say not all Covid-19 measures are in place to prevent its spread

Engineering slips out of gear at varsity

Walter Sisulu University wants to reprioritise R178-million that it stands to give back to treasury after failing to spend it

Press Releases

Coexisting with Covid-19: Saving lives and the economy in India

A staggered exit from the lockdown accompanied by stepped-up testing to cover every district is necessary for India right now

What Africa can learn from Cuba in combating the Covid-19 pandemic

Africa should abandon the neoliberal path to be able to deal with Covid-19 and other health system challenges likely to emerge in future

Road to recovery for the tourism sector: The South African perspective

The best-case scenario is that South Africa's tourism sector’s recovery will only begin in earnest towards the end of this year

Covid-19: Eased lockdown and rule of law Webinar

If you are arrested and fined in lockdown, you do get a criminal record if you pay the admission of guilt fine

Covid-19 and Frontline Workers

Who is caring for the healthcare workers? 'Working together is how we are going to get through this. It’s not just a marathon, it’s a relay'.

PPS webinar Part 2: Small business, big risk

The risks that businesses face and how they can be dealt with are something all business owners should be well acquainted with

Call for applications for the position of GCRO executive director

The Gauteng City-Region Observatory is seeking to appoint a high-calibre researcher and manager to be the executive director and to lead it

DriveRisk stays safe with high-tech thermal camera solution

Itec Evolve installed the screening device within a few days to help the driver behaviour company become compliant with health and safety regulations