The Square Kilometre Array (SKA) is the world's most powerful radio telescope. Following an initial identification of sites suitable for the SKA by the International SKA Steering Committee in 2006, southern Africa and Australia were selected as the finalists.
What is the SKA?
The Square Kilometre Array (SKA) will be a mega radio telescope, about 100 times more sensitive than the biggest existing radio telescope. The SKA will consist of approximately 4 000 dish-shaped antennae and other hybrid receiving technologies. It will have a core of several hundred antennae and outlying stations of 30 - 40 antennae spiralling out of the core. These stations will be spread over a vast area - up to 3 000 km. The combined collecting area of all these antennae will add up to one square kilometre (= one million square metres).
What will the SKA do?
This mega telescope will be powerful and sensitive enough to observe radio signals from the immediate aftermath of the Big Bang. It will search for Earth-like planets and potential life elsewhere in the universe, test theories of gravity and examine the mystery of dark energy. A prime objective of the SKA is to probe the so-called "dark ages", when the early universe was in a gaseous form before stars and galaxies were formed. Scientists are optimistic that the SKA will allow many new discoveries about how the universe was formed and what it is made of.
What would it mean for Southern Africa to win the bid?
The SKA will be one of the largest scientific research facilities in the world and would consolidate Southern Africa as a major hub for astronomy in the world. It would attract the best scientists and engineers to work in Africa and would provide unrivalled opportunities for scientists and engineers from African countries to engage with transformational science and cutting edge instrumentation and to collaborate in joint projects with the most renowned universities and research institutions in the world.
Where will the SKA be built?
The SKA must be built in a remote area, as far away as possible from man-made radio interference which is caused by sources such as cellular masts, radio broadcasts and air traffic navigation signals. If South 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. However, the SKA is so huge that outlying stations will be spread over several African countries, including Namibia, Botswana, Mozambique, Zambia, Mauritius, Madagascar, Kenya and Ghana.
When will the chosen host nation be named?
According to the Colin Greenwood on the SKA Website,
"There is no firm date yet for the site decision/announcement. An independent external committee (SKA Site Advisory Committee) is expected to provide its report and site recommendation in early-mid February, which will be passed to the Members of the SKA Organisation who will make the final decision. Until the report is received, the steps leading to the site decision will not be known in detail. Although there is no fixed timeline for the site decision, it is reasonable to expect the decision to be made sometime in March-April 2012."
– Colin Greenwood, SKA Company Secretary.
We will bring you the news as soon as it is made public!
Info source: http://www.ska.ac.za/