05Apr2012

  The SKA May Become A Joint Venture

The first six antennas were built at the MRO in December 2010.

Australia’s hopes to host the world’s biggest telescope array have found an unlikely source of optimism. When it’s built, the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) will consist of several thousand radio telescopes arranged in either the Western Australia outback or the South African desert.

Australia and New Zealand have made a joint bid to secure the 62-year long, $2 billion project, which is being funded by a consortium of 20 countries.

Scientists hope SKA will shed new light on fundamental questions about the universe, including how it began, why it is expanding and whether it contains life beyond our planet.

It will be at least 10,000 times more powerful than any radio imaging telescope on Earth.

But Australia’s hopes to host the array hit a snag last week after astronomer Dave “Astro Dave” Reneke posted a grim article on his website about an expert report that may have recommended the South African site.

The SKA Organisation’s board of directors met in Manchester last month to consider the report and insiders have not-so-secretly let it slip that South Africa’s bid was more attractive.

Not because it was technically superior to the Murchison site in Western Australia – although it noted the “lower cost” power the telescope and transferring the massive amounts of data it collected – but because the selection team was likely to show a preference for involving a “developing nation”.

The SKA board’s eight members countries met in Amsterdam overnight, but were keen to assure onlookers that “it is not likely that this meeting will make a final decision on the site”.

“Rather, it will be the start of a process of discussion and negotiation between the members.”

Artist's impression of the 5km diameter centra...

Artist's impression of the 5km diameter central core of SKA antennas. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The five countries that can vote are China, Italy, the Netherlands, the UK and Canada. The three that can’t are South Africa, Australia and New Zealand.

So who did they pick? No one.

The Members wished to move ahead with the site selection process, and recognised that it is desirable to maintain an inclusive approach to SKA,” a press statement read.

So in other words, the project may be shared.

“They noted that it is important to maximise the value from the investments made by both candidate host regions,” the statement continued.

“They therefore agreed to set up a small scientific working group to explore possible implementation options that would achieve this.”

The working group is set to report back to the organisation at a meeting set for mid-May.

Australia’s bid is a joint effort with New Zealand, hence the non-voting role for the Kiwis.

South Africa’s bid involves eight African nations. They’ve already built a seven-dish version of the SKA in an effort to showcase their abilities and are working on a 64-dish version – MeerKAT – which will remain operational even if they lose the SKA bid.

Last month, the seven-dish array – KAT-7 – produced the first atomic hydrogen spectral line images of a nearby galaxy.

Construction is likely to start in 2016 and expected to take six years to complete. Source: News.Com

Pictures: The Aussie site pitching to host the SKA

Australia, S. Korea Create Giant Telescope

The new lens makes quite an impression on the crowds, and something of an impression into the pavement too!

Astronomers in Australia have linked radio telescopes in that country with counterparts in South Korea to create a giant instrument almost 5,000 miles across.

The linkup, similar to ones Australia has made with telescopes in Japan and China previously, should provide resolving power about 100 times that of the Hubble Space Telescope, astronomers said.

“This is another step in Australia’s ongoing collaboration with Asia in the field of radio astronomy,” Philip Diamond, astronomy chief at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, said in a statement.

The new linkup involved five telescopes — two in the Australian state of New South Wales and one near Hobart, in Tasmania — and two Korean instruments, one in the capital Seoul and another in Ulsan, a city in the southeast of the country, it was reported.

The linked radio dishes observed a galaxy 3.5 billion light-years away known as J0854+2006 for five hours as their data was streamed in real time to Curtin University in Western Australia, where it was processed on the fly with good results, researchers said.

“We were observing at a high frequency, which can be challenging for this technique, but the experiment worked extremely well,” test organizer Chris Phillips said. Source: SpaceDaily

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