May 25 2012
Dawn breaks over the Northern Cape near Carnavon, the proposed site for the SKA telescope. Australia and South Africa will share the location for the world’s most powerful radio telescope, the Square Kilometre Array’s scientific consortium announced on Friday.
“We have decided on a dual site approach,” said SKA board chairman 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. The SKA organisation said that the “majority of the members were in favour of a dual-site implementation model for SKA”. It did say, however, that while both sites were well suited to hosting the SKA they had identified Southern Africa as the preferred site.
The majority of SKA dishes in Phase 1 will be built in South Africa, combined with MeerKAT. Further SKA dishes will be added to the ASKAP array in Australia. All mid-frequency arrays will be built in Southern Africa while low-frquency arrays will be built in Australia. “This hugely important step for the project allows us to progress the design and prepare for the construction phase of the telescope. The SKA will transform our view of the Universe; with it we will see back to the moments after the Big Bang and discover previously unexplored parts of the cosmos,” said Dr Michiel van Haarlem, Interim Director General of the SKA Organisation. Both South Africa and Australia were competing to win the $2 billion contract for the SKA, an instrument that will be 50 times more sensitive than today’s most powerful radio telescopes. 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 antennas at Australia’s core site at Mileura station, about 100 kilometres (60 miles) west of Meekathara in western Australia. Other antennae are distributed across Australia and New Zealand.
South Africa’s site in the arid Karoo region will now also be connected by a remote link to a network of dishes stretching across southern and eastern Africa and as far away as Ghana. Its construction is scheduled to start in 2016, becoming fully operational in 2024.