SKA telescope

International astronomers and government representatives met last week to assess the opportunities offered by building the world’s largest radio telescope, the Square Kilometre Array (SKA).


International astronomers and government representatives met in Cape Town last week to assess the opportunities offered by building the world’s largest radio telescope, the Square Kilometre Array (SKA).


The SKA Forum focused on the benefits of the project for participating countries and the importance of science and skills in overcoming the negative impact of the economic downturn.


Proffesor John Womersley, of the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC), said: ‘The world’s current and future challenges demand scientific thinkers and technological innovation.


‘The quickest way to get out of the economic dilemmas is to be able to evolve scientifically and that requires a scientifically trained workforce.’


The SKA will involve thousands of dishes and other collecting devices working together as one instrument with a joint receiving surface of one square kilometre.


The device has been described as a ‘time machine’ able to detect celestial signals from the early universe.


According to IBM, the radio telescope’s computing power will be equal to all the people on the planet simultaneously performing a billion calculations per second.


Dr Bernie Fanaroff, director of SKA South Africa, said: ‘Telescopes look at very weak signals and so need to push the limits of technology.


‘It often produces new technologies that later give rise to innovations and products that can be commercialised, which we can’t predict at this stage.’


In addition to new technology spin-offs, the project is hopeful that the SKA will encourage young people throughout the world to take up science and engineering careers.


South Africa has already begun construction on the Karoo Array Telescope (called MeerKAT) and Australia is currently working on the Australian SKA Pathfinder (ASKAP).


Both countries have been shortlisted to host the SKA with a decision expected to be announced between 2011 and 2012.


Construction on the SKA is scheduled to start in 2013 and early SKA science will be carried out from 2017 onwards.