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Australia Space Science News

South Africa Wins Science Panel's Backing To Host SKA Telescope 117

Posted by timothy
from the catchy-rhythms dept.
ananyo writes "A scientific panel has narrowly recommended South Africa over Australia as the best site for the proposed Square Kilometre Array (SKA), an enormous US$2.1-billion radio telescope. While the project's member states have yet to make a final decision on where the telescope will go, the odds are now that the African bid will ultimately win out against the joint bid from Australia and New Zealand to host the project. The SKA radio telescope will be made up of some a 3,000 dishes, each 15 metres in diameter. The project will try to answer big questions about the early Universe: how the first elements heavier than helium formed, for example, and how the first galaxies coalesced. The telescope is so sensitive that it could even pick up television signals from distant worlds — something that might aid in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence."
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South Africa Wins Science Panel's Backing To Host SKA Telescope

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  • Project security (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Is the project's security taken into consideration? South Africa isn't the most stable of countries, and its neighbours to the north are highly unstable.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward
      The bleeding hearts of Europe want to patronise the Africans once again with a perceived leg up rather than guarantee the long term stability and viability of the project. Why isn't the LHC based in South Africa?
      • by Anonymous Coward

        And what exactly would be the point of building the LHC outside of europe?

        The reason why the proposed sites for the SKA are SA and Australia is because the site needs to be radio quiet.

      • Why isn't the LHC based in South Africa?

        I don't know, because Switzerland is a much nicer place and because exporting petabytes of real-time data from Africa to Europe just isn't practical? It could also have something to do with geological stability. You don't want to have too many vibrations wherever you decide to build such a thing.

        • Re:Project security (Score:4, Interesting)

          by 0111 1110 (518466) on Saturday March 10, 2012 @07:37AM (#39310721)

          The southern hemisphere is better for radio astronomy and SETI. It has more interesting targets, including the most interesting nearby stars and the galactic center. Also, there are more radio telescopes in the northern hemisphere than in the southern hemisphere already, including Arecibo and the new 500 meter FAST dish being constructed in Southern China.

        • Or you know, because the 27 km underground tunnel for the particle beams was already there?

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Take up the White Man's burden--
        Send forth the best ye breed--
        Go bind your sons to exile
        To serve your captives' need;
        To wait in heavy harness,
        On fluttered folk and wild--
        Your new-caught, sullen peoples,
        Half-devil and half-child.

        Take up the White Man's burden--
        In patience to abide,
        To veil the threat of terror
        And check the show of pride;
        By open speech and simple,
        An hundred times made plain
        To seek another's profit,
        And work another's gain.

        Take up the White Man's burden--
        The savage wars of peace--
        Fill full the m

    • by Taco Cowboy (5327)

      I don't have time to read TFA, so please tell us what SA has over Au?

      We are talking about a project that worth BILLIONS, and that the structures (radar and all) must be kept in a place

      I don't mean to be patronizing - but I just can't see how Sa can win over Au in term of safety

      Or is PC --- as in Political Correctness --- an important criteria in choosing Sa over Au?

      • by bruce_the_loon (856617) on Saturday March 10, 2012 @03:16AM (#39309921) Homepage
        • Cheaper construction costs due to the site being less remote.
        • Lower fiber-optic and power grid installation costs for the same reason.
        • Better government support, SA government is paying some infrastructure costs like the fiber optics and is legally guaranteeing radio-quiet.
        • Currently better back-haul undersea cables. 5 cables in two geographically redundant sets (west and east coasts) with multi-terabit capacity with 40Gbps lambda capability will be in place.
        • Innovative telescope and equipment design being done by the South Africans is lowering the per-telescope cost significantly as well.

        Think that covers it.

        • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 10, 2012 @03:57AM (#39310079)

          Better government support, SA government is paying some infrastructure costs like the fiber optics and is legally guaranteeing radio-quiet.

          These points actually weigh in favour of the Australian bid: their National Broadband Network project ($40b of government-funded network infrastructure development) is being run out to Geraldton (closest town to the prospective SKA site). Both countries are legally guaranteeing radio-quiet zones - but, to be honest, I'd expect the legal enforcement environment in Australia to be more reliable than that in South Africa.

          You missed one other point in favour of South Africa: higher altitude, which is important at higher radio frequencies. Although at lower frequencies, altitude doesn't make any difference, and the limiting atmospheric factor is the stability of the ionosphere (which is better at the Australian site).

          Innovative telescope and equipment design being done by the South Africans is lowering the per-telescope cost significantly as well.

          There's a lot of technology development going on in both countries. The South African pathfinder telescope (MeerKAT) is using Gregorian offset antennas, produced via some new process (hydroforming, I think), but the radio receivers are relatively conventional. The Australian pathfinder telescope (ASKAP) is using relatively conventional antennas, but has some new Phased Array Feed receivers which allow it to see 30x as much of the sky at one time. I think the new Australian receivers are potentially more game-changing, but riskier: the first set had unexpectedly high noise across half of their frequency band, which they're working on fixing with the second batch.

          • by syousef (465911)

            The national broadband network is sure to be cancelled by the incoming government next election. It is an overpriced and unnecessary joke - entirely the wrong way of going about things.

        • by rtb61 (674572)

          Save pennies to spend pounds.

      • by james.mcarthur (154849) on Saturday March 10, 2012 @03:33AM (#39309985)
        "I don't mean to be patronizing - but I just can't see how Sa can win over Au in term of safety"

        I think its more likely Australia's poor record at developing and capitalising on high-tech R&D.

        Australia doesn't do high-tech. Look at Government policy for the last 20 years. Look at which companies in Oz actually do R&D. The poster child for Australian R&D is the CSIRO, and really they're the poster child because there is no-one else.

        Then there is our Universities that are churning out business-types and lawyers but fewer and fewer scientists. So even if we wanted to start doing anything remotely high-tech, we don't have the people to do it - we'd need to import them. And there is a madness around these parts about letting immigrants into the country, fanned by the right-wing Opposition.

        This isn't meant to be dismissive of the Australian proposal; it was very good and by all accounts so was the SA one. The plans for the supporting infrastructure was very impressive. But Australia has a reputation of only being interested in what we can dig out of the ground, not what we can use our brains for.
        • by ghostdoc (1235612)

          Agree. Hopefully some pointy questions will get asked as to why Africa is seen as a better place to do science than Australia.

          But then again we have arsewit politicians who will probably ignore the whole thing as geeks-only and therefore irrelevant and carry on backstabbing each other and doing an excellent impression of the monkey exhibit in a zoo... including the public masturbation and flinging of poo. /sigh

          • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

            by AHuxley (892839)
            Re South Africa is seen as a better place to do science?
            The long Bush Wars provided a great generational base for science and very hi tech.
            South Africa with some help created aerodynamic casings for its nuclear weapons, that puts in a rather unique list.
            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jindalee_Operational_Radar_Network [wikipedia.org] Australia's tech efforts at the same time :)
            • by ghostdoc (1235612)

              Well I hear a lot of SA accents here in Perth, which usually means there's problems abroad (witness the huge numbers of Irish accents around too).

              If there's one thing that Western Australia has got, it's vast enormous areas of completely uninhabited wilderness, you'd think perfectly suitable for this sort of thing. Clearly the SA bid was either technically superior or there was politics involved. Either way, we have arsewit politicians...

        • by Anonymous Coward

          But Australia has a reputation of only being interested in what we can dig out of the ground, not what we can use our brains for.

          So just like SA then?

          The big problem with SA is security. Any and all equipment will be stolen for scrap.

          I knew a radar technician at an airport in SA who was on call one night when his radar stopped working. He went in to the control room and spent a couple of hours checking and eliminating possible electronic faults before finally going to look at the radar dish itself in a secure area half a mile away. When he got there he found that someone hod gotten through the security fences and stolen the rather

      • by arisvega (1414195)

        .. so please tell us what SA has over Au?

        Location. Australia is too far away, unless you live on it. And most people don't.

    • The only highly-unstable country in Southern Africa is Zimbabwe and that idiot will die one day and hopefully peace will result. Namibia, Botswana, Mozambique, Zambia and Angola are all peaceful and stable. Above that, there are issues. At least we're not building nukes and toying with the world's trigger-fingers.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Just going down the list of countries associated with South Africa's bid:

        • Namibia: stable since its war of independence (from South Africa) in 1990.
        • Botswana: stable since independence in 1966.
        • Mozambique: civil war ended in 1992.
        • Ghana: after a coup, democracy restored in 1992.
        • Kenya: not very democratic in the 80s and 90s, but hasn't had a serious coup attempt since 1992.
        • Madagascar: revolution in 2009, but prior to that was stable from 1992.
        • Zambia: most recent revolution in 1991.
        • South Africa: apartheid overthr
      • by Vanders (110092)

        At least we're not building nukes and toying with the world's trigger-fingers.

        South Africa certainly built nuclear weapons [wikipedia.org]. They're the only country to ever develop an independent nuclear arsenal and then choose to get rid of it.

    • It is in the middle of the karoo, which is a desert. The biggest security threat would be dirty deeds done with sheep.
    • You don't make a decision like that without doing a thorough risk analysis.

      They must have concluded that if it gets stolen there's an outside chance of capturing the perpetrator and getting it back, whereas if it's crushed in an earthquake, burned in a bushfire or washed away by a flood it's game over.

  • by Zaldarr (2469168) on Saturday March 10, 2012 @02:45AM (#39309831) Homepage
    that it's not over yet.
  • by FairAndHateful (2522378) on Saturday March 10, 2012 @02:49AM (#39309841)

    I will admit that I don't know the cultures of both places very well, but between the two...

    Wouldn't you go with Australia based on population density alone? This is a radio telescope, something you want in someplace remote. You pick a square kilometer out in the middle of the outback, there's going to be like NO local interference. South Africa has approximately 40 times the population density, and they seem to be spread around the country a little more evenly than Australia.

    • by Taco Cowboy (5327)

      This is a radio telescope, something you want in someplace remote. You pick a square kilometer out in the middle of the outback, there's going to be like NO local interference. South Africa has approximately 40 times the population density, and they seem to be spread around the country a little more evenly than Australia

      This is exactly what intriques me

      I do not know what criteria that so-called "Science Panel" use - but for a radio telescope, the more remote the place, the less man-made radio signal there is, the better the location is

      That is why I suspect PC --- as is Political Correctness --- forms a ***BIG*** part of the criteria

      For Sa is mostly Blacks and Au is mostly Whites

      Race does matter after all - in this 21st century science project

    • by bruce_the_loon (856617) on Saturday March 10, 2012 @03:09AM (#39309903) Homepage

      In most areas of South Africa, I would agree with you, but the Carnarvon site is so remote and inhospitable that it is regarded as one of the most radio-quiet places in the world. That combined with a law passed guaranteeing radio quiet in any designated area, such as the site, was part of the attraction.

      Also, the engineers and scientists on our MeerKAT project team have come up with some very interesting technology [slashdot.org] to keep the farmers connected via cellular phones while keeping the site free from spillage. I get a sense that our chaps are "immature" who like to fiddle and innovate. And without the IP issues that plagues the West at the moment.

  • by bmo (77928)

    "The telescope is so sensitive that it could even pick up television signals from distant worlds â" something that might aid in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence."

    It'll be Hitler's speech for the 1936 Berlin Olympics.

    --
    BMO

  • Rumours and unidentified sources are not facts. Even TFA says, "Final decision on Square Kilometer Array's location not expected before April." There's plenty of time for trading of horse, greasing of palms etc.
  • The telescope is so sensitive that it could even pick up television signals from distant worlds â" something that might aid in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence."

    God forbid they've received our terrestrial signals!

    • I am very much hoping that highly intelligent beings have received our signals, understood our culture, and are beaming back final episodes for series that were cancelled in mid-season. There are many series that need better endings. But which ones depends on how far away they are. If they are closer, they could be now sending a better ending for Joanie Loves Chachi. If they are farther away, they could produce a better ending for The Man From U.N.C.L.E. I just hope they do not become big fans of that fam
      • There are many series that need better endings.

        Yeah, let's hope they don't receive HBO's "The Sopranos".

      • by sconeu (64226)

        Unfortunately, they did not receive the final episode of "Single Female Lawyer"

    • by G3ckoG33k (647276)

      'God forbid they've received our terrestrial signals!'

      I wonder what they would fear most, tv evangelicals or our science fiction?

  • Good to hear this. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Shag (3737) on Saturday March 10, 2012 @04:37AM (#39310221) Homepage

    The continent of Africa, as a whole, is woefully underdeveloped for astronomy (like it is for lots of other things). Yes, South Africa has some decent stuff, like SALT, based on the Hobby-Eberley scope in Texas, which is quite large. And the Canaries have plenty of observatories near Africa, but they're under Spanish control. A SKA would probably include some outlying dishes one or even two countries removed from South Africa, which would help make science more visible in those countries as well. /Biased since I work in astronomy and am married to an African. ;)

    • Wide open spaces with no light pollution. This can finally be an asset! Not kidding either, go down there for vacation, the night sky is amazing.
      • Not that light pollution has much to do with a radio telescope, but the night sky in outback Australia is pretty impressive too.

        • by JanneM (7445)

          Except you're too busy watching the ground for snakes to see the sky.

      • by Shag (3737)

        Yep, I've seen some pretty dark darkness in rural parts of Kenya and Uganda, to be sure.

        (Sucky places to get a flat tire, though, I must say.)

        Depending on the country, there might be a fair bit of smoke in the air from people using wood for fuel, which would be a problem at certain wavelengths.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    It's going to South Africa which is sort of stable due to the fact that it's filled with minerals but also an assortment of other African countries that switch between civil war and democracy every few years. I read an article in the Guardian a few months ago about how giving this project to Africa would show how great the future of Africa is. However when Africa needs stability more than anything and warlords and militias to cease to exist I fail to see how importing a bunch of white european scientists is

  • by PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) on Saturday March 10, 2012 @05:22AM (#39310357)

    Just as light pollution is a problem for astronomers, Radio Spectrum Pollution is a problem for radio astronomers. Won't this be a big problem in South Africa?

    With that constant drone of vuvuzelas, you can't hear a damn thing in that country.

  • WAke me up when the Two Tone array goes in!

  • Arjen Rudd: [holds up his wallet] Diplomatic immunity! HA HA HA!
    [Roger slowly rolls his head on his neck, takes aim, and fires - his bullet goes through Rudd's wallet, and then his head]
    Roger Murtaugh: It's just been revoked!

  • If I were paying the bill, I would vote for South Africa due to the abundance of cheap labor available compared to Australia. Cheap labor is a huge advantage with such a huge construction project. You might even be able to import labor from a nearby country. OTOH, if I think in terms of centuries or millenia, I would vote for Australia due to its long term political stability, its physical isolation and its much greater size. Look back 100 (or even 10,000) years and ask yourself which country would be more

    • by Dusty101 (765661)

      I don't think that Chile would be a risk in the way that you describe. It already has a number of big, modern telescopes, such as Gemini South, the VLT(I) and ALMA, and had a a lot of smaller observatories during the Allende & Pinochet years. They're not really perceived as military targets.

      (Disclaimer: I work at ALMA).

    • Whenever I hear "abundance of cheap labor available" given as an advantage, I know the situation is not going to end well. Ever.

  • I think they should add a few telescopes in northeastern Brazil too, as judged by looking at Google Earth.

    The northeastern tip of Brazil would be a nice addition to the spiral mentioned in the article.

    • by 0111 1110 (518466)

      For SETI/METI purposes Brasil is directly below some interesting targets such as Gliese 581. Just make sure the astronomers don't watch City of God before visiting. The language barrier could also be a problem. Not nearly as many people speak Portuguese as a second language as Spanish (or English).

      The high humidity could also be a problem. Water vapor starts to attenuate signals after about 9-12 Ghz. Deserts, preferable high altitude deserts, are ideal. The Atacama Desert in Chile and the Plains of San Agus

  • I know I have no vote in that matter. But if I could, I would vote for South Africa. For two reasons: First, it is a poor country with a growing problem in violence. The cause of that is the high unemployment rate and problems in the education system and the overall education. This is typical for countries where the wealth is distributed unequally. The same problems are known in China or Brazil or even the USA. Therefore, the telescope should go there because it will generate jobs there, it will increase th

  • "The telescope is so sensitive that it could even pick up television signals from distant worlds — something that might aid in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence."

    I suspect that the intelligence of any society goes briefly upward upon inventing a television...and sharply downward as soon as something is actually broadcast to it.

    I also suppose, however, that our own notion of what constitutes a "thinking man" ("sapiens") species prevents us from lowering the requirement of what's called "inte

    • ... they have cable?

      Seriously, most technological societies will probably go through a very brief period where they broadcast megawatt signals all over their planet. Following their adoption of cellular, mesh and other similar low power systems, they will appear to 'go dark' in the RF spectrum to distant observers.

      Now if we can pick up their power grid frequencies, that will be useful. Are they like us good Americans, using 60 Hz? Or commie socialist Europeans with 50 Hz?

  • by hey! (33014)

    Call me when they decide where to put the Reggae telescope.

  • 1. Build a StarTram in the Himalayas.
    2. Send all the aluminium struts and panels to the moon.
    3. Build the SKA on the far side of the moon.

    Cold temperatures. No atmosphere to get in the way. Most terrestrial interference would be blocked by the moon itself. Most frequencies that you might want to listen for are being blocked by the atmosphere. We have some atmospheric windows at 1-15 Ghz, 34 - 37 Ghz, and 73 - 77 Ghz and, aside from the visual spectrum, that's about it. Pathetic really. For all we know some

  • Wouldn't assembling the Teleoscope on the Moon give it a better chance of always having a "clear" time to view with? Using Robotics to assemble the componets and very few Human Tenders if any?
  • "The telescope is so sensitive that it could even pick up television signals from distant worlds — something that might aid in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence."

    Or remove all doubt that the extraterrestrial life is intelligent.

  • With deep roots going back to the late 50's, I am saddened that Jamaica was not selected.

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