Europe and Africa to create radio astronomy partnership

31 May 2012

Artist's impression of how the Square Kilometre Array dishes will look. Image by SKA Organisation/Swinburne Astronomy Productions

Just days after Australia and South Africa were picked to host the world’s largest-ever radio telescope, the Square Kilometre Array (SKA), a workshop in Brussels yesterday looked at funding opportunities for African and European radio astronomy partnerships.

European Parliament and European Commission members met with European and African radio astronomers, as well as global industry representatives, to explore ways of developing further alliances around radio astronomy between both continents.

The next step is to establish an African-European Radio Astronomy Platform, which will be known as AERAP.

Prof George Miley, the vice-president of the International Astronomical Union, spoke about astronomy’s development potential, in a statement yesterday.

“It links cutting-edge technologies, frontier sciences and our deepest cultural layers. South Africa has been a role model for the International Astronomical Union in exploiting astronomy for capacity building,” he said.

Miley, who is also the international co-ordinator of the EU Universe Awareness project, spoke about the SKA, and how it would be an “enormous iconic project” for Africa, Europe and the world.

Exploring the genesis of the universe

Last week, member countries of the SKA Organisation met in Amsterdam to agree on a dual-site solution for the telescope. When built, SKA will be more than 50 times more sensitive than any other radio telescope in existence, with 10,000 times the survey speed.

Astronomers will use the telescope to explore the formation and evolution of the first stars and galaxies after the Big Bang.

Dual sites have been picked for the telescope – Australia and South Africa. The first phase of the SKA project will be built in South Africa, combined with MeerKAT. Additional SKA dishes will be added to the ASKAP array in Australia.

Construction of the SKA radio telescope, which is set to cost €1.5bn, is not set to begin until 2016, however. It is due to be fully operational in 2024.

As for the AERAP alliance between Europe and Africa, the aim is to leverage co-operation in radio astronomy to advance scientific discovery, to improve knowledge transfer and education, and to promote development and competitiveness in both continents.

The aim is to establish AERAP before the end of 2012.

Carmel Doyle was a long-time reporter with Silicon Republic