South Africa is leading the bid to host the most powerful radio telescope in the world which would have an antenna station erected in Zambia.
The Square Kilometre Array (SKA), when constructed, in 2025, will have 50 times greater sensitivity than any other radio telescope on Earth. The SKA will probe the edges of the universe, even before the first stars and galaxies that formed after the Big Bang. This telescope will contribute to answering fundamental questions in astronomy, physics and cosmology, including the nature of dark energy and dark matter.
South Africa with Eight other African countries is competing with Australia to host the SKA.
“We believe that hosting the SKA in South Africa will boost the development of high level skills and cutting edge technology infrastructure in Africa, and will also attract expertise and collaborative projects to the continent,” a member of the team supporting Africa’s bid told the Watchdog.
The Square Kilometre Array (SKA) will be a mega radio telescope, about 100 times more sensitive than the biggest existing radio telescope.
If Africa wins the SKA bid, the core of this giant telescope will be constructed in the Karoo region of the Northern Cape Province near the towns of Carnarvon and Williston, linked to a computing facility in Cape Town.
A major component of the SKA telescope will be an extensive array of approximately 3000 antennas. Half of these will be concentrated in a 5 km diameter central region, and the rest will be distributed out to 3 000 km from this central concentration. South Africa’s bid proposes that the core of the telescope be located in an arid area of the Northern Cape Province of the Republic of South Africa, with about three antenna stations in Namibia, four in Botswana and one each in Mozambique, Mauritius, Madagascar, Kenya and Zambia. Each antenna station will consist of about 30 individual antennas.
South Africa has already made a law to create 12.5 million hectares of protected area – or radio astronomy reserve. This area is also referred to as the Karoo Central Astronomy Advantage Area, offering low levels of radio frequency interference, very little light pollution, basic infrastructure of roads, electricity and communication.
The budget for building the SKA is €1.5 billion and it will cost about €150 million per year to operate it. The SKA will be built and funded by a consortium, which currently consists of sixteen countries. The African Union Heads of State have given their full support to the African bid.
A decision on where to site the SKA will be taken in 2012.