21 August, 2009
Aus & NZ Join in Mega Science Bid
The Australian and New Zealand governments have agreed to join forces to bid for the A$2.5 billion (NZ$3.1 billion) international Square Kilometre Array (SKA) project.
The formal arrangement will be signed by New Zealand’s Economic Development Minister Gerry Brownlee and the Australian Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research, Senator Kim Carr, at the Australia-New Zealand Leadership Forum in Sydney this morning.
The SKA is a large-scale, new-generation radio-telescope that will be by far the most powerful of its type in the world, with a discovery potential 10,000 times greater than current instruments.
The SKA will see up to four thousand antennas spread over a five thousand kilometre baseline to create a single deep space listening device.
The telescope – able to see back to the formation of the first stars – is one of the world’s most significant mega-science projects – on a par with the Large Hadron Collider in Europe. Australia and New Zealand are one of the two shortlisted sites – the other is in Southern Africa.
“The SKA project promises to be a top global science project of the 21st century, using one of the world’s most powerful computers, to explore fundamental questions in science,” Mr Brownlee said.
“Extending the configuration of the SKA to include New Zealand will significantly add to the scientific outcomes of the project and could possibly see two stations constructed in New Zealand with an array of radio telescopes,” said Mr Brownlee.
The agreement follows discussions on the SKA between Australian and New Zealand Prime Ministers over the past 12 months. It commits both countries to supporting SKA-related industry opportunities and promoting their industry capabilities internationally as part of this process.
Senator Carr said: “New Zealand’s participation will strengthen the bid to host the SKA, one of the world’s great science projects, making the bid truly international.
“New Zealand is crucial to building the global collaboration required for the SKA to reach its full potential.
“If our bid is successful, the SKA will not only significantly increase Australia’s and New Zealand’s scientific capabilities; it will result in economic benefits and spinoffs in a number of areas, including supercomputing, data transmission, renewable energy, construction and manufacturing,” Senator Carr said.
“From New Zealand’s point of view this agreement will also be a stepping stone to foster strong links and cooperation between Australian and New Zealand industry, particularly in the high-technology sectors,” Mr Brownlee said.
Final decisions on the SKA, including the host site, are not expected until 2012, with construction expected to run for six to eight years. The project currently involves a total of 19 countries.
Background on the SKA
If the New Zealand and Australian bid to host the SKA is successful, the SKA instrument will consist of up to 4,000 antennas and other devices spread from Western Australia to New Zealand. These radio telescopes will all operate in unison as one instrument.
The term “Square Kilometre Array” refers to the fact that when fully operational, the large number of radio telescopes will provide a combined collecting area of one million square metres (i.e. one square kilometre).
Increasing a telescope's collecting area increases its sensitivity. Thanks to higher sensitivity, weaker signals emitted by more distant or fainter celestial objects, can be received. One of the aims of the SKA is to receive signals from the early Universe – the most distant objects that can be observed. These signals are very faint and hence require a very sensitive telescope so they can be detected. This means the SKA needs to be very large.
Designing such a scope will require vigorous technological developments in computing, engineering, communications and radio frequency devices. Internationally the SKA program is being progressed by a consortium of more than 50 institutions from 19 countries, including Australia, New Zealand and countries in Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Americas.
The cost of the SKA is currently estimated at A$2.5 billion (NZ$3.1 billion). It is expected that financing for the construction and operation of the SKA will come from international partner governments. New Zealand and Australia are members of an international group considering a range of issues relating to the SKA including governance, design, procurement and financing.SKA Science
The SKA will help to answer fundamental questions about the universe. The five key science drivers for the SKA have been identified as:
- Cradle of life – this project will explore whether there are Earth-like planets around other stars, and whether they host intelligent life, thus helping to answer the eternal question of whether there is life elsewhere in the universe.
- Probing the Dark Ages – this will explore the first black holes and stars, and help to answer the question of what happened after the big bang and before the first stars and galaxies formed.
- The origin and evolution of cosmic magnetism - this will explore how magnetism affects the formation of stars and galaxies, and what maintains the present-day magnetic fields of galaxies, stars and planets.
- Strong field tests of gravity using pulsars and black holes - this will help to test whether Einstein's theory of general relativity is the last word on gravity, for example, whether its predictions for black holes are correct, and whether the cosmos is filled with a gravitational wave background.
- Galaxy evolution, cosmology, and dark matter - this will explore how galaxies are born and how they evolve, and seek a better understanding of the "dark energy" that fills the majority of the universe.
For more information on the Australia and New Zealand SKA bid visit www.ska.gov.au. Further information on SKA is available at www.skatelescope.org. Pictures and animations can be accessed on both sites.