6 September 2010
African countries that have partnered with South Africa in its Square Kilometre Array bid met in Ghana recently to step up their efforts to trump a competing bid from Australasia to host what will be the world’s most powerful radio telescope.
“The sharing of information and the commitment and enthusiasm shown by the partner countries has emphasised Africa’s strengths in providing the best site for the SKA science,” South Africa’s Department of Science and Technology said in a statement last week.
Africa and Australasia (Australia and New Zealand) are the short-listed rivals to host the SKA.
The SKA will be used to collect radio waves from space-like planets, stars and galaxies. It will consist of approximately 3 000 dish-shaped antennae and other hybrid receiving technologies.
Site quality, construction costs
If Africa wins the bid, the core of the telescope will be constructed near Carnarvon in the Karoo region of South Africa’s Northern Cape province, with outlying stations of about 30 to 40 antennae located in African partner countries. These antennae will be connected via a data communications network to a data-processing facility.
The combined collecting area of the SKA will add up to one square kilometre.
“Though both sites (Africa and Australasia) have been found to be excellent to host the SKA, it is necessary to determine which is of the two locations best in terms of quality of site and cost to construct,” the department said.
Other criteria, such as socio-economic impact and favourable weather conditions, may also be considered in site selection.
The African effort to host the SKA is made up of nine partner countries – Botswana, Ghana, Kenya, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Zambia – which will ultimately host the SKA telescope stations.
African associate countries
Apart from the partner countries, the African SKA initiative has another category of cooperation called the SKA African Associate Countries.
This involves participation in training student to become global experts in astronomy, engineering and information technology, the department said. Membership to become an SKA African Associate Country is open to all African countries.
To ensure the success of Africa’s bid to host the SKA, a working group and a steering committee was set up in 2008 to resolves issues related to the bid, while at the same time providing the best strategic direction for astronomy and associated human development.