Back in 1969, when Neil Armstrong first alighted from the man-made spaceship to step foot on the moon, Australia played a key role in transmitting the footage of that historic moment to the world. But that key moment for Australian science could pale in comparison to the potential of what we could achieve if Australia and New Zealand are successful in our bid to host the world’s biggest telescope, the Square-Kilometre Array, or SKA.
The SKA is a new type of telescope that has the potential to see 10 times further into the depths of space than ever before while simultaneously capturing the radio waves hitting earth from outer space. It has the potential to let scientists test Einstein’s theory of gravity, learn how galaxies form and evolve and give us a better insight into things like dark energy.
The telescope itself will consist of 3,000 strategically placed 15m wide satellite dishes. At the moment, South Africa is battling a joint pitch from Australia and New Zealand to house the revolutionary new telescope. With a target cost of €1,500 million, the final decision as to who will host the telescope is destined to be decided next year.
What makes the SKA truly remarkable is that it’s a unified worldwide effort. Scientists from over 20 countries have joined forces to create the array, named because the surface area of the 3,000 towers will equate to roughly one square kilometre.
Once the decision is made as to which country will host the telescope, it will still take roughly 12 years before it becomes fully operational, although scientists will be able to begin using it for scientific purposes from 2019 following three years of construction and two years of detailed planning and design.
It’s an exciting development for the future of Australian science, with the potential to turn ANZ into a leader in astronomical science. Let’s hope we win!