1 March 2014, Murchison Radio Observatory (MRO), Western Australia, Australia – UK Minister for Universities and Science David Willetts and Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop today visited Australia’s site for the planned Square Kilometre Array (SKA) radio telescope.
The SKA is a global science project aimed at building the world’s largest radio telescope. Comprising hundreds of thousands of radio antennas in Australia and Africa, the SKA will enable astronomers to monitor the sky in unprecedented detail, thousands of times faster than any system currently in existence.
The UK is one of the SKA member countries and plays host to the SKA headquarters in Manchester, inaugurated by Minister Willetts in April 2013.
“Australia and the UK have a rich history of collaboration on major science projects and we value the relationship between our countries on this important project,” Mr Willetts said.
“This is a very exciting time for the Square Kilometre Array telescope and it is obvious when you visit the site that Australia shares my strong sense of anticipation and expectation for the project. Things are really starting to happen here.
Having recently opened the SKA headquarters in Manchester and visited the South African SKA site, I now have a real sense of a truly international project coming together with the aim of furthering human knowledge,” Mr Willetts said.
With image resolution exceeding that of the Hubble Space Telescope by a factor of 50 times, the SKA is expected to solve some fundamental questions about the universe, such as how it began.
“The Square Kilometre Array is a world-class science infrastructure project which will make giant leaps forward in both technology development and in astronomy,” Ms Bishop said.
“Australia and the United Kingdom, together with the other SKA partner countries, are working very hard to design and develop the telescope and the two SKA precursor telescopes already in place in Western Australia are already leading the way.”
While at the site, the Ministers toured the two Australian SKA precursor telescopes, the Murchison Widefield Array (MWA) which began operating last year and the Australian SKA Pathfinder (ASKAP), commissioned by the Howard Government, which is due to begin official operations as part of the SKA this year.
STFC is providing funding for the UK’s involvement in the project’s detailed design phase, enabling UK institutes, laboratories and industry to participate in the international work collaborations needed to progress SKA to construction readiness. STFC also provides funding to support operation of the SKA Project Headquarters. Support for UK activities is also being provided by the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), which identified SKA computing as a key theme in the Autumn Statement 2012 in the field of Big Data.
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About the SKA
The Square Kilometre Array will be the world’s largest and most sensitive radio telescope. The total collecting area will be approximately one square kilometre giving 50 times the sensitivity, and thousands of times the survey speed, of the best current-day telescopes. The SKA will be built in Africa and in Australia. The SKA will address fundamental unanswered questions about our Universe including how the first stars and galaxies formed after the big bang, how dark energy is accelerating the expansion of the Universe, the role of magnetism in the cosmos, the nature of gravity, and the search for life beyond Earth. The SKA Organisation, with its headquarters at Jodrell Bank Observatory, near Manchester, UK, was established in December 2011 as a not-for-profit company in order to formalise relationships between the international partners and centralise the leadership of the project. Members of the SKA Organisation are: Australia, Canada, China, Germany, India (associate member), Italy, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Republic of South Africa, Sweden and the United Kingdom.
The Science and Technology Facilities Council is keeping the UK at the forefront of international science and tackling some of the most significant challenges facing society such as meeting our future energy needs, monitoring and understanding climate change, and global security. The Council has a broad science portfolio and works with the academic and industrial communities to share its expertise in materials science, space and ground-based astronomy technologies, laser science, microelectronics, wafer scale manufacturing, particle and nuclear physics, alternative energy production, radio communications and radar.
STFC operates or hosts world class experimental facilities including:
• in the UK; ISIS pulsed neutron source, the Central Laser Facility, and LOFAR.
STFC is also the majority shareholder in Diamond Light Source Ltd.
• overseas; telescopes on La Palma and Hawaii
It enables UK researchers to access leading international science facilities by funding membership of international bodies including European Laboratory for Particle Physics (CERN), the Institut Laue Langevin (ILL), European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF) and the European Southern Observatory (ESO). STFC is one of seven publicly-funded research councils. It is an independent, non-departmental public body of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS). www.stfc.ac.uk