The SKA project
Astronomy allows us to see back in time, because the light waves from very distant stars or galaxies take a long time to travel through space to our telescopes, so we see them as they were a very long time ago. Now astronomers want to build the most powerful telescope ever, to see back to before the first stars and galaxies formed. The Square Kilometre Array (SKA) will be a radio telescope – instead of seeing light waves, it will make pictures from radio waves.
The majority of the SKA - the full dish array and the dense aperture array - will be built in Africa. The core - i.e. the region with the highest concentration of receivers - will be constructed in the Northern Cape Province, about 80 km from the town of Carnarvon (the same site as where the MeerKAT is being constructed). The sparse aperture array (low frequency array) will be built in Western Australia.
South Africa has already demonstrated its excellent science and engineering skills by designing and starting to build the MeerKAT telescope – as a pathfinder to the SKA. The first seven dishes, KAT-7, are complete and have already produced its first pictures. MeerKAT is attracting great interest internationally – more than 500 international astronomers and 58 from Africa submitted proposals to do science with MeerKAT once it is complete.
The technology being developed for MeerKAT is cutting-edge and the project is creating a large group of young scientists and engineers with world-class expertise in the technologies which will be crucial in the next 10 – 20 years, such as very fast computing, very fast data transport, large networks of sensors, software radios and imaging algorithms.
Since 2005, the African SKA Human Capital Development Programme has awarded close to 400 grants (2012) for studies in astronomy and engineering from undergraduate to post-doctoral level, while also investing in training programmes for technicians. Astronomy courses are being taught as a result of the SKA Africa project in Kenya, Mozambique, Madagascar and Mauritius (which has had a radio telescope for many years) and are soon to start in other countries.
View the overall SKA schedule
Want to know more?
Astronomy Geographic Advantage Act, 2007
Factsheet: SKA for Africa
Factsheet: Africa - site for the SKA
Factsheet: Collaboration at all levels
Factsheet: Industry partnerships
The Square Kilometre Array