South Africa is building the world’s most powerful radio astronomy telescope

South Africa is building the world’s most powerful radio astronomy telescope – the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) – which is set to surpass any other existing astronomy instrument. The SKA project will require a broad investment expected to run to $2.5 billion, a bill South Africa expects its partners in the deal will have to pick up part of.

President Jacob Zuma has given his political backing to negotiations with foreign partners including Australia to help fund the construction of the world’s next generation radio telescope. ‘We have supported this fully because we understood that South Africa is at the cutting edge of science in the world,’ he said.

Canada, India, the Netherlands and Sweden are among those taking part in the project, China and Germany are expect to fully enter the fold soon and Japan and South Korea have expressed interest.

SKA project director Bernie Fanaroff said there was an expectation that telescope hosts South Africa and Australia – and Britain which houses the project headquarters, should pay more. Science and Technology Minister Derek Hanekom said that the ‘bulk of the money will be coming from member countries of the SKA consortium.’

President Zuma, during his visit to the site said, ‘The awarding of this project to South Africa is a major step in solidifying science and technology not only in South Africa, but in the African continent as well as across the globe. It will propel our continent to the forefront of radio astronomy. We are there, we are at the door of finding life in other planets, … I think we are now at the cutting edge of that research, we are leaders of it”.

In all, the massive SKA radio telescope will link 3000 antenna dishes. It will allow astronomers to see distant galaxies and to shed new light on fundamental questions about the universe, including how it began, why it is expanding and whether it contains life beyond our planet.

The bulk of the project will be built in South Africa’s remote and arid south-west in the Karoo region.

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