Africa is bidding to host Square Kilometre Array (SKA)
Africa is bidding to host the world's most powerful radio telescope, the Square Kilometre Array (SKA). When constructed, in 2025, it will have 50 times greater sensitivity than any other radio telescope on Earth. The SKA will probe the edges of our universe, even before the first stars and galaxies that formed after the Big Bang. This telescope will contribute to answering fundamental questions in astronomy, physics and cosmology, including the nature of dark energy and dark matter.
South Africa is leading the African bid and has already legislated to create 12.5 million hectares of protected area - or radio astronomy reserve. This area is also referred to as the Karoo Central Astronomy Advantage Area, offering low levels of radio frequency interference, very little light pollution, basic infrastructure of roads, electricity and ommunication.The human story began in Africa and it can also be the place where we find answersto the story of our universe.
Following an initial identification of sites suitable for the SKA by the International SKA Steering Committee in 2006, southern Africa and Australia are the finalists. A consortium of the major international science funding agencies, in consultation with the SKA Science and Engineering Committee (SSEC), will announce the selected site for the SKA in 2012.
At about 50 – 100 times more sensitive than any other radio telescope on Earth, the SKA will be able to probe the edges of our Universe. It will help us to answer fundamental questions in astronomy, physics and cosmology, including the nature of dark energy and dark matter. It will be a powerful time machine that scientists will use to go back in time to explore the origins of the first galaxies, stars and planets.
The construction of the SKA is expected to cost about 1.5 billion Euro. The operations and maintenance of a large telescope normally cost about 10% of the capital costs per year. That means the international SKA consortium would be spending approximately 100 to 150 million Euro per year on the telescope. It is expected that a significant portion of the capital, operations and maintenance costs would be spent in the host country. South Africa offers a competitive and affordable solution for constructing, operating and maintaining the SKA.
South Africa has already demonstrated its excellent science and engineering skills by designing and starting to build the MeerKAT telescope – as a pathfinder to the SKA. The first seven dishes, KAT-7, are complete and have already produced its first pictures. MeerKAT is attracting great interest internationally – more than 500 international astronomers and 58 from Africa submitted proposals to do science with MeerKAT once it is complete.
If Africa wins the SKA bid, the core of this giant telescope will be constructed in the Karoo region of the Northern Cape Province near to the towns of Carnarvon and Williston, linked to a computing facility in Cape Town. Other countries where stations will be placed include Namibia, Botswana, Mozambique, Mauritius, Madagascar, Kenya and Zambia.
Africa needs science and science needs Africa. After all, Africa is the home of humankind and the place where technology and intellectual activity first developed. Simon Ratcliffe, an astronomer and a member of the South African SKA bid team predicts, "Young people interested in astronomy and that might work on this project in future, are destined to become experts in future technologies that will be in high demand around the globe."
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Mr. Rod Marcel