Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Our Last-Gasp Share of Giant Telescope

Artist's impression of SKA static, low frequency aperture arrays

Artist's impression of SKA static, low frequency aperture arrays to be built in Phase 1 at the Murchison site in WA. Credit: SKA Organisation/TDP/DRAO/Swinburne Astronomy Productions

By Peter Pockley

What was the back story behind the decision to split the Square Kilometre Array between southern Africa and Australia?

Peter Pockley has been reporting the SKA saga for Australasian Science since the project was first conceived. © Peter Pockley (scicomm@bigpond.net.au)

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

The scientific goals for the SKA are truly grand. “The SKA will transform our view of the universe,” according to the Interim Director General of the SKA Organisation, Dr Michiel van Haarlem, when announcing the decision on 25 May. “With it we shall see back to the moments after the Big Bang and discover previously unexplored parts of the cosmos. The SKA will enable astronomers to glimpse the formation and evolution of the very first stars and galaxies after the Big Bang, investigate the nature of gravity, and possibly even discover life beyond Earth.”

These questions had been the goal of Australian Dr Ron Ekers, who as director of world-leading arrays in the USA and Australia is widely credited as the “father of the SKA”. In 1990 he and a few colleagues first proposed that if radioastronomers were to address these questions they would need a telescope with a receiving area equivalent to one square kilometre.

Ekers doggedly pursued the project through the Inter­national Astronomical Union, and encouraged his successors and colleagues to bring it to fruition. Speaking from a conference in Moscow, Ekers (now a CSIRO Fellow) acknowledged: “I was certainly the one who triggered interest in the project in Australia and proposed Australia as a possible site”.

A subsequent two-decade-long battle over the planning of these megafacilities came down to the wire...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.