Both South Africa and Australia are going to share the hosting of the most sophisticated scientific project in the world – the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) telescope.
The announcement was made late last week by Minister of Science and Technology Naledi Pandor.
The final choice as to who would host the SKA was reached by members of the SKA Organisation at its meeting in the Netherlands. South Africa and Australia – whose bid included New Zealand – were the final countries in the running to host the telescope.
“Following nine years of work by the South African and Australian SKA site bid teams, the impartial SKA Site Advisory Committee, made up of world-renowned experts, performed an objective technical and scientific evaluation of the sites in South Africa and Australia, and identified by consensus Africa as the preferred site. Having said that, in order to be inclusive, the SKA Organisation has decided to take into consideration the construction of one of the three SKA receiver components in Australia. Two are going to be constructed in Africa,” stated the minister.
She revealed that the meeting of the members had made a decision to divide the project which happens to be an unusual decision considering the search for a single site.
“We had were hoping the unambiguous unbiased and professional recommendation of the SSAC would be accepted as the most sound scientific outcome.”
She pointed out that South Africa accepted the compromise in the interest of science and thanked the South African SKA team and scientists which in fact have done sterling work over the past years.
The SKA will comprise of approximately 3 000 dish-shaped antennae spread over a wide area.
South Africa is most likely to build the telescope in the Karoo in the Northern Cape, while the joint site spreads from the Murchison Shire in Western Australia’s Mid-West region to the top of New Zealand’s South Island.
Building is likely to get started around 2016 and the telescope should be completed by 2024. It should be in a position to do early science in 2020.
The SKA Organisation postponed announcing its preferred site in April following an agreement that a small scientific working group should examine possible implementation alternatives that would make certain that there was an inclusive strategy to SKA, in addition to maximizing the value from the investments made by both candidate host regions.
The working group was supposed to report back to the members this month. The report was expected to make available further information to facilitate the site decision for SKA.
Scientists hope to utilize the SKA to search the universe for answers about how precisely stars and galaxies are formed and just how galaxies and the universe have evolved over the past 14 billion years.
Hosting the project is predicted to generate substantial investments and opportunities, not to mention give science and engineering a significant boost.
In South Africa, the MeerKAT array happens to be taking shape in South Africa’s Karoo region. This is a world-class radio telescope which is designed to carry out ground-breaking science. It will be the largest and most sensitive radio telescope in the southern hemisphere up until the SKA is completed.
At the same time, in Australia, the Australian SKA Pathfinder (ASKAP) is a new radio telescope which will provide a crucial testbed for SKA technology in addition to being a world-leading telescope in its own right.