Africa is set to become a destination of science and engineering, with South Africa and Australia sharing the location for the world’s most powerful radio telescopes, the Square Kilometre Array.
South Africa and Australia were competing to win the $2 billion contract for the SKA, an instrument that will be 50 times more sensitive than today’s most powerful radio telescopes.
Scientists hope the SKA, a massive radio telescope, will shed light on fundamental questions about the Universe, including how it began, why it is expanding and whether it contains life beyond our planet.
The eagerly awaited decision now means that engineers can connect the two antennas at South Africa’s site in the arid Karoo region, which now is connected by a remote link to a network of dishes stretching across southern and eastern Africa and as far away as Ghana.
One antenna will be connected in Australia’s core site at Mileura station, about 100 kilometres (60 miles) west of Meekathara in Western Australia.
Meanwhile, Naledi Pander, the South African Minister for Science and Technology said South Africa has accepted the outcome of a dual site approach in the interest of progress.
South Africa’s successful bid is expected to involve several other countries and put the continent at the forefront of research in this scientific field. South Africa’s bid proposed 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.
At about 50 ÔÇô 100 times more sensitive than any other radio telescope on earth, the SKA will be able to probe the edges of the universe and will help to answer fundamental questions in astronomy, physics and cosmology, including the nature of dark energy and dark matter. Additionally, it will be a powerful time machine that scientists will use to go back in time to explore the origins of the first galaxies, stars and planets.
The SKA’s construction is scheduled to start in 2016, becoming fully operational in 2024. The Project will allow South Africa and the region to be able to gather information about the universe in time and prepare itself for any forthcoming natural eventuality.
Meanwhile, Botswana has been solidly behind South Africa’s bid with some of Batswana students being trained in preparation for this mammoth project. “This successful bid is a win for us as well,” said Christopher Nyanga, the Principal Public Relations Officer at the Ministry of Infrastructure, Science and Technology. Nyanga said they are waiting for notification from South Africa on further developments on satellite site in Botswana.