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article imageAustralia, South Africa agree to share world's largest telescope

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By Andrew Moran     May 25, 2012 in Science
Amsterdam - Australia and South Africa agreed in the Netherlands Friday of sharing the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) telescope, the world's most powerful radio telescope. The SKA telescope is believed to be strong enough to detect extraterrestrial life.
The Square Kilometre Array (SKA) is projected to become the world’s largest and most powerful radio telescope. The area itself will give the telescope 50 times the sensitivity and 10,000 times the survey speed of today’s standard telescopes. It is estimated to cost approximately $1.5 billion and its targeted construction start date of SKA Phase I is 2019.
This new instrument will look into some of the most complex questions that plague our understanding of the universe, such as how the first galaxies and stars formed following the Big Bang, the nature of gravity, how dark energy is increasing the speed of the expansion of the universe and even if extraterrestrial life exists in the darkest regions of our universe.
Members of the SKA organization agreed Friday on a dual-site that will see Australia and South Africa share the SKA telescope, according to a news release emailed to Digital Journal. Both nations were competing for the near $2 billion contract, but the organization says the decision will maximize the investments made by both states.
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“This hugely important step for the project allows us to progress the design and prepare for the construction phase of the telescope,” said Dr. Michiel van Haarlem, Interim Director General of the SKA Organization. “The SKA will transform our view of the Universe; with it we will see back to the moments after the Big Bang and discover previously unexplored parts of the cosmos.”
A significant portion of SKA dishes during Phase I will be constructed in South Africa that will be combined with MeerKAT. The remaining dishes will be built in Australia and added to the ASKAP array. During Phase II, all of the dishes and mid-frequency aperture arrays will be established in South Africa, while low-frequency aperture array antennas for Phase I and II will be assembled in Australia.
Several factors were taken into consideration as to what nation would host the SKA instruments, such as the long distance data network connectivity, operating and infrastructure costs, the political environment and the consistency of a radio quiet zone on a long-term basis.
“Today we are a stage closer to achieving our goal of building the SKA. This position was reached after very careful consideration of information gathered from extensive investigations at both candidate sites,” said Professor John Womersley, Chair of the SKA Board of Directors. “I would like to thank all those involved in the site selection process for the tremendous work they have put in to enable us to reach this point.”
There are nine nations involved in the SKA organization, including China, Canada, India, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, the Netherlands and Italy – most of these countries did not bid to host the SKA telescopes.
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