South Africa pushes to host new powerful radio telescope
CAPE TOWN - Agence France-Presse
This photo shows dishes of the future Square Kilometre Array radio telescope that will look back to the dawn of the universe. AFP photoAfrica, the birthplace of the human species, has long been a magnet for archaeologists. Now South Africa wants to draw leading astrophysicists to the continent as well with the world’s most powerful radio telescope, the Square Kilometre Array (SKA), an instrument that would be able to look back to the infancy of the universe.
South Africa and Australia are the two finalists in the competition to host the project, which will eventually link thousands of radio dishes to make a massive antenna with a total surface area of one square kilometer.
The telescope, the brainchild of an international consortium of scientists, will be 50 to 100 times more sensitive than today’s best radio telescopes and is projected to cost in the neighbourhood of $2.0 billion.
Like an archaeologist digging into ever deeper layers of soil, the telescope will pick up radio waves from deeper in space than ever before, ones whose sources are billions of years old and may not even exist anymore.
Scientists say that power will help them look back in time and see how the universe took shape after the big bang.
Scientists will decide in March whether the South African and Australian SKA site proposals pass muster. The consortium will then choose the winner, a decision the South Africans say will be political and economic as well as scientific.
South Africa also plans to start construction next year on a 64-antenna radio telescope called MeerKAT that would be one of the five most accurate in the world.
Observation slots at the MeerKAT are already fully booked for its first five years.