Site picked for world's biggest radio telescope

Posted by Emma Woollacott

A site has finally been chosen for the world’s largest and most sensitive radio telescope, the Square Kilometre Array - and it's both Australia and South Africa.

The SKA will enable astronomers to glimpse the formation and evolution of the very first stars and galaxies after the Big Bang, investigate the nature of gravity - and possibly even discover life beyond Earth.

While South Africa had been narrowly ahead in the running, most members of the SKA Organisation were in favor of the dual-site solution, and both countries had already made investments in the project.

The decision was based onlevels of radio frequency interference, the long term sustainability of a radio quiet zone, the physical characteristics of the site, long distance data network connectivity, the operating and infrastructure costs and the political and working environment.

"This hugely important step for the project allows us to progress the design and prepare for the construction phase of the telescope," says says Dr Michiel van Haarlem, interim director general of the SKA Organisation.

"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."

The majority of SKA dishes in Phase 1 will now be built in South Africa, where they'll be combined with MeerKAT. Others will be added to the ASKAP array in Australia.

All the dishes and the mid frequency aperture arrays for Phase II of the SKA will be built in Southern Africa, while the low frequency aperture array antennas for Phase I and II will be built in Australia and New Zealand.

"Today we are a stage closer to achieving our goal of building the SKA. This position was reached after very careful consideration of information gathered from extensive investigations at both candidate sites," says Professor John Womersley, chair of the SKA board of directors.

"I would like to thank all those involved in the site selection process for the tremendous work they have put in to enable us to reach this point."