Nations that are a part of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) organization will soon become a part of scientific history. South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand will all be hosting large fields of antennas that may serve to be a significant breakthrough in the world of astronomy. On Friday, the different nations had a meeting where they decided to combine their bids and join together to ensure the project’s success.
According to the BBC, the large fields of antenna will cost the nations a combined total of about 1.5 billion Euros, the equivalent of more than $1.8 billion American dollars. The SKA members believe that the scientific benefits will be well worth the extensive costs. The new radio telescope will have a discovery capacity that is 10,000 times greater than that of the average present day telescopes.
The SKA has focused on five key “science drivers,” which include exploring for other Earth-like planets and researching existing scientific theories like black holes and gravity. In order for the telescope to have this discovery capacity, it will need to obtain a collecting area of more than one million square meters.
Small satellites will be spread across South Africa and Australasia. Australasia refers to Australia, New Zealand, and several other surrounding islands in the Pacific Ocean. The use of two sites instead of one will certainly increase the cost of the project, but according to the SKA board chairman Professor John Womersley it will also increase the benefits. With the new technology the SKA will be able to map positions of billions of galaxies and reveal new details about “dark energy.” Astronomers also believe that the telescope will provide new information about pulsars and the development of stars.
The future locations of the South African and Australasian telescopes are very remote areas which will have little to no interference from cell phones and other personal technologies. Low frequency technology will be placed in Australia while subsequent satellites will be placed in South Africa. Professor Womersley expressed his excitement about the project, saying, “For the first time in history Africa will be host to the world’s largest scientific instrument.”
Phase 1 of the project is scheduled to begin in 2015 or 2016 and will cost around 360 million Euros. “The construction phase alone will last from 2013 to 2025. So, there’s a direct spin off from construction, and there’s the creation of employment through operations and maintenance that will go on for about 50 years,” explained the SKA South Africa project director Dr. Bernie Fanaroff.
According to Dr. Fanaroff, the most important aspect of this massive project is the “economic aspect, which is the development of our capabilities in very hi-tech sectors, and the ability of our universities to attract large numbers of the best young people into science and engineering.”