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Australia The Almighty Buck Science

SKA Might Be Split Between South Africa and Australia 110

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the two-times-half-not-better-than-one dept.
gbrumfiel writes "The Square Kilometre Array will be the world's most powerful telescope, assuming the nations involved can agree on where to build it. A scientific panel recently backed South Africa over Australia to host the project, but neither side has conceded defeat. Rather than splitting the partners, project leaders are now thinking about splitting the telescope between the two countries. There's little scientific advantage, but the thinking is that a split telescope would be better than no telescope."
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SKA Might Be Split Between South Africa and Australia

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 11, 2012 @08:53AM (#39642777)

    None of the official sources has confirmed that the recommendation went to South Africa.
    It springs from two Australian newspaper articles which weren't sourced.
    This isn't to say South Africa wasn't recommended, but you shouldn't report it as fact.

    Sarah Wild
    South Africa

    • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 11, 2012 @09:12AM (#39642981)

      Nature claims independent verification of the Sydney Morning Herald's claim that South Africa was recommended. That's pretty damn strong evidence. In any event, if you want to tell someone they "shouldn't report it as fact", you're in the wrong place. Slashdot has no reporters and does not report anything.

    • by mcgrew (92797) *

      SKA? They should have a leg in the Carribean. When is the REGGAE telescope going to be built?

  • by vlm (69642) on Wednesday April 11, 2012 @08:54AM (#39642787)

    There's little scientific advantage

    Make it a interferometer? Seems obvious, so there must be something wrong with that idea.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Make it a interferometer? Seems obvious, so there must be something wrong with that idea.

      Not very useful, since there's not a lot of sky visible both from South Africa and western Australia.

      • Re:Interferometer (Score:4, Informative)

        by buchner.johannes (1139593) on Wednesday April 11, 2012 @09:24AM (#39643093) Homepage Journal

        Make it a interferometer? Seems obvious, so there must be something wrong with that idea.

        Not very useful, since there's not a lot of sky visible both from South Africa and western Australia.

        Also, any radio telescope array is already a interferometer. The SKA is the mega-version of a interferometer, or you could say a hybrid of an ATA and VLBI.

      • by vlm (69642)

        You'll have to excuse me because I went to public schools, so I forgot about that whole "earth is round" thing. Dammit.

        About 100 degrees of longitude separates them.... Seriously though I was thinking of southern circumpolar observations... anything below their lattitude never locally sets. That is kind of a problem with both observation sites in the extreme south... they're not going to be making observations of Polaris anytime soon, which is too bad. Now "Indonesia / Kenya" would be pretty good locati

    • Re:Interferometer (Score:4, Informative)

      by Hadlock (143607) on Wednesday April 11, 2012 @09:46AM (#39643385) Homepage Journal

      The real reason is that it's much harder to kill the telescope project once it's in two separate jurisdictions. The B-2 bomber had parts made in all 50 states so nobody could vote to kill the project without killing jobs in their state when the project went horrendously over budget (it's still a cool plane, though).

    • Re:Interferometer (Score:5, Informative)

      by Idarubicin (579475) <allsquiet.hotmail@com> on Wednesday April 11, 2012 @10:06AM (#39643599) Journal
      The design already calls for dishes scattered across a circular region roughly 3000 km wide (though the highest density of dishes will be in patches 5 km across in the center of the array) to create a very large synthetic aperture.

      The problem with an interferometer having just two widely-separated points is that it only provides high angular resolution along the axis between those points. (It's not useless, but it is very limited.) The two sites are about 10,000 km apart, which somewhat limits the amount of sky that both sites will be able to see simultaneously (and observe continuously for any extended period of time). If a large number of telescopes are involved in the interferometer array, one needs some very high bandwidth data connections, which I'm not certain exist between South Africa and Australia. In practice, I suspect that what you'd be getting would be more like two Half-Kilometer-Arrays rather than a long-baseline SKA.

      What has been proposed, and should be technically feasible, is dividing the array up by frequency band. The plan already calls for three overlapping arrays of different types of telescopes in order to capture three different frequency bands. (Phased array dipole antennas work great at 100 MHz, whereas you need dishes for 10 GHz.) In principle, one could put the low- and mid-frequency arrays on one site and the high-frequency arrays on another. That avoids the problems with bandwidth associated with long-baseline interferometry, and it allows each array to scan its entire local sky without worrying about what's over the distant station's horizon.

      The downside is that this increases overall costs. Two sites need to be prepared; two sets of computing facilities need to be built; two different national governments have to be placated. Scientifically, it means that the entire array can't always be 'pointed' in the same place across its entire frequency spectrum--sometimes the high- or low-frequency portion of the array will be below the horizon.

      • by dkf (304284)

        The downside is that this increases overall costs. Two sites need to be prepared; two sets of computing facilities need to be built; two different national governments have to be placated.

        The costs are definitely an issue (though not having everything running at once means that the ferocious data rate would be reduced, which will cut costs a lot even if you need to build two supercomputers). The governmental placation shouldn't be a big issue; they're currently competing strongly for it after all.

        Scientifically, it means that the entire array can't always be 'pointed' in the same place across its entire frequency spectrum--sometimes the high- or low-frequency portion of the array will be below the horizon.

        For almost all astronomical objects, it matters not one bit at all whether the observations are simultaneous or separated by a few hours. Even supernovae last for weeks. It would only matter if ther

      • by PvtVoid (1252388)

        What has been proposed, and should be technically feasible, is dividing the array up by frequency band. The plan already calls for three overlapping arrays of different types of telescopes in order to capture three different frequency bands. (Phased array dipole antennas work great at 100 MHz, whereas you need dishes for 10 GHz.) In principle, one could put the low- and mid-frequency arrays on one site and the high-frequency arrays on another.

        Note that MEERKAT [ska.ac.za] is going ahead in South Africa regardless of the outcome of the decision on SKA, and will operate from 0.5-14 GHz.

  • Of politics stepping in where it has no business, and mucking everything up. Going to read TFA now...
  • ...it would be great a great global welfare program.

  • South Africa? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Vinegar Joe (998110) on Wednesday April 11, 2012 @08:57AM (#39642821)

    Not a place I'd want to move my family to or have any long term plans.........and it seems a lot of South Africans feels the same way.........

    http://www.sa-austin.com/blog/2011/04/what-were-your-main-reasons-for-leaving-south-africa-263.html [sa-austin.com]
    http://digitaljournal.com/article/267776 [digitaljournal.com]

    • by Trepidity (597)

      Yeah but the alternative is Australia, land of scary fauna.

      • by Bill Currie (487)

        The flora isn't far behind the fauna.

      • by wisty (1335733)

        Yes, as opposed to the land of Black Mambas, Lions, Rhinos, and Hippos.

        • More people are killed by hippos than by any other animal (other than man himself, of course).
          • In the area the array is to be built there are no hippos. In fact there is very little water or anything other than vast, relatively flat, arid open spaces.

            Why do seemingly educated people find the need to make up imaginary problems when they are not even there?

            • No-one was making up imaginary problems.

              One guy pointed out that Australia has lots of dangerous (and just plain wierd) animals.

              Another guy points out that Africa does too.

              And I point out, just because I was bored, that hippos are actually the most dangerous animal to man on the planet (except other men).

              Not one of us suggested that "dangerous animals" were an issue to be addressed by the people wanting this telescope.

              If *I* were trying to point out that "dangerous animals" were an issue for this teles

    • by Anonymous Coward

      I live in South Africa so I can give some context...
      For a few years around our first democratic elections many people were scared the country is going to go downhill etc. They left in droves to places like the UK, Australia, Canada, NZ. Hundreds of thousands of people emigrated. The best part is that the country didn't go downhill and many of the people who left are having a hard time justifying why they left. We've had the longest period of economic growth in the country's history since the 1994 elections

      • Yeah, I met a guy, whom I respect. He came from South Africa. He told me why he left, but I can't remember the details. It was probably because his parents brought him along, and he was of school age.

        He told me that it was very comparable to Canada, in that it looked nice, and it was one of the more prosperous places in Africa. He did mention some bad stuff, but that was because we were having a well rounded discussion. I don't think that we discussed how peaceful the situation was, but I recall thinking of

        • Yes, you are wrong.

          Living in SA means being constantly vigilant to random crime like rape, murder and violence. SA has the highest violent crime rate in the world (second only to Mexico because of their current drug war). Defenceless old (white) people on smallholdings and farms are very often targets of unbelievably brutal and violent murder (we're talking about being tortured with boiling hot water, or stoves, or being bashed with bricks, hammers, spades, or burned with hot irons, etc). So are defencel

          • by jheath314 (916607)

            I set out to look for information to refute your claims of the abnormal quantity and quality of violence in South Africa, because I didn't want to believe your post could be true. Instead I only found information confirming that South Africa has major problems with rape and murder, from pretty reliable sources like the UN and Interpol.

            Wikipedia has a pretty decent summary of the issue, with lots of supporting references: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crime_in_South_Africa [wikipedia.org]

            Stay safe, good sir.

      • by sirlark (1676276)
        As someone else who lives in South africa, mod parent up! That being said, if we get the SKA, the bandwidth it requires is going to need dedicated infrastruture to be built. I'm not 100% sure, but I don't think you can even get DSL out in the karoo (the desert area they plan on building the SKA in). Still, I suspect this would be the case in Australia as well, and even in the middle of Western Europe; this thing is going to use so much bandwidth that no matter where it's built it's going to need it's own pi
      • by Anonymous Coward

        I live in South Africa so I can give some context...
        I know people who have been directly affected by rape, home-invasion, murder, violence, corruption, incompetence. All perpetrated by africans, not whites. Yes, it's a beautiful country and I love it because it's home. I've resisted the pull of starting a new life elsewhere. Instead I started a business, employ people, pay taxes, contribute. However, I now have two daughters, so my perspective has changed. Do I hang around until they're also raped an

      • I totally agree. There are tough neighborhoods and there is plenty of poverty and crime, but the place is beautiful, the people friendly, even I might add to me as a white American from Mississippi visiting the townships, and there is much good science going on there. Their national fish collection in Grahamstown, which I am familiar with, is one of the leading research facilities of its kind in the world.

        I hope the astronomers can get their act together here. By adding an excellent facility in South Afr

      • I've never been to South Africa, but I've known quite a few guys from that area; some that no longer live there and a few that traveled back and forth. I have not had any hugely in depth discussions of the country as a whole, but all of them seemed to have a fondness for it, and all of them were also very nice, friendly people. I'd like to visit it just to check out some of the kit car manufacturing facilities that exist there. They build some cool stuff.
    • by musmax (1029830)
      SALT of the earth. And yet even with the great exodus of skills some dedicated people still pull stuff like this off: http://www.salt.ac.za/fileadmin/files/talks/DoDInLights.avi [salt.ac.za] I love SA but I'm not going back, not before changes happen that would be unlikely in my lifetime.
  • Build two.

  • by Hentes (2461350) on Wednesday April 11, 2012 @09:08AM (#39642939)

    According to TFA the only disadvantage of splitting is that there has to be a computing centre built on each site, slightly increasing the costs. But I'm sure that the losing one of the two countries would happily foot the bill for that if it meant that they could still get one half.

    • Footing part of the bill yourself offsets one of the key reasons to bid on the scope in the first place - having other people's money spent in your country. Nobody is going to be happy about getting half the package *and* an additional bill for 'privilege' of only getting half the package. (Which is why the politicians are not happy about the proposal, as mentioned in TFA.)

      • I wish that the article had mentioned the extra costs, and given an estimated life of the telescope.

        An extra million might not be that big of a deal, if it can be spread out over many decades, and if it fosters better communication between nations.

        Also, if the million were split between 2 nations, and if the half package still brought in a net gain, then they can't complain.

        • It's a supercomputer center... so, it's going to be quite a bit more than a million I suspect.

      • by Hentes (2461350)

        Computing is cheap, I think the majority of the costs are the telescopes themselves. The politicians are "not happy" because they are bartering, it remains to be seen if they think it seriously.

        • Oranges are cheap too... until you want to buy a few tens of tons of them. Then the bill gets pretty steep.

          So it goes with computing - computers are cheap, but supercomputer centers are not.

    • From what I've heard, the government people involved on both sides aren't interested in only hosting half a telescope. I'm sorry I can't seem to find the reference at the moment, if I find it I'll come back...

    • by dkf (304284)

      According to TFA the only disadvantage of splitting is that there has to be a computing centre built on each site, slightly increasing the costs. But I'm sure that the losing one of the two countries would happily foot the bill for that if it meant that they could still get one half.

      It might actually reduce costs. The projected computing needs for the full SKA were crazy-high, right at the boundaries of what was conceivable as possible even allowing for Moore's Law. If splitting it up means you don't need a computer center that's quite so cutting edge, that will save a huge amount. (The really cutting edge kit is much more expensive than the stuff that's a little more commodity.) It helps that the computer centres would be built in areas with really low land prices...

  • by Fishchip (1203964) on Wednesday April 11, 2012 @09:17AM (#39643023)
    'OK, OK, you can each have half of the damn telescope, just shut up and give me some peace.'
    • by msobkow (48369)

      The insanity of building TWO facilities because neither side is willing to let go of their new favourite toy is absolutely mind-boggling.

      So if they're like children, the public and governments are being really shitty parents be letting this foolishness continue instead of spanking them both and giving it to a third nation that isn't even on the application list just to spite both greedy contestants.

      • by Thing 1 (178996)

        The insanity of building TWO facilities [...]

        The beginning of your sentence reminded me of Sagan's "Contact".

  • So, its the Double Half Square Kilometer Array now then?
  • SA too risky (Score:4, Informative)

    by mauriceh (3721) <<maurice> <at> <harddata.com>> on Wednesday April 11, 2012 @09:23AM (#39643075) Homepage

    Ask anyone who is a resident or ex resident of S.Africa..
    It is simply a matter of time until the place descends into chaos.
    And yes, i have lived there.

    • Re: (Score:1, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Ask anyone who is a resident or ex resident of S.Africa..
      It is simply a matter of time until the place descends into chaos.
      And yes, i have lived there.

      Since you're asking... I live in South Africa and I'd like some of whatever it is you've been smoking. We have the longest period of economic growth since the 94 elections and our democratic institutions are functioning pretty darn well thank you very much.

      When did you last live here? 15 years ago?

      • Re:SA too risky (Score:4, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 11, 2012 @09:43AM (#39643345)

        We have the longest period of economic growth since the 94 elections and our democratic institutions are functioning pretty...

        Keep in mind that most of that 3.4% growth comes from mining exports (including manufactured iron and steel). This shouldn't be confused with diversified economies in more stable regions like... Australia.

        Also just last year there were renewed fears of increased violence against foreigners as the the rate of xenophobic violence continues to rise unabated by the anemic attempts by the South African government. Some political leaders have been implicated in the report from the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM) Monitoring Project.

        • by Anonymous Coward

          The current power struggle is between the head of a corrupt old guard, and a younger, angrier version of Robert Mugabe. Sooner or later death will take the older gentleman.

          The analysis on South Africa is correct unless a new majority driven party takes power.

        • As the World Cup Soccer Championship that took place in Cape Town and other cities demonstrated, that fear simply isn't rational. Yes, there was violence against foreigners, but it was primarily directed at Zimbawians, who have been displaced by turmoil there. This is a situation not at all dissimilar to the way Mexican and other Latin Americans entering into the US are treated, who resent their presence because they purportedly "steal jobs". The South African government moved quickly to address the prob

    • Asking ex residents is likely to get you an overly pessimistic view. I still live here, FWIW it looks as though we go through ups and downs. Sometimes it looks good, sometimes bad.

      I may end up living elsewhere but that's for family reasons more than socioeconomical ones.

    • Re:SA too risky (Score:4, Interesting)

      by dkleinsc (563838) on Wednesday April 11, 2012 @10:30AM (#39643877) Homepage

      For what it's worth, my father and step-mother are in the north-eastern area of the country right now as a Peace Corps volunteer, and since they've settled in has had no real concerns about safety or riots or anything like that.

      The basic problem in South Africa is that there are no jobs. And I don't mean 'no jobs' like the 20% unemployment that's common in US cities right now, I mean 'no jobs' like 80% unemployment, most people surviving off of government aid, and no startup capital available for investment. The private industries that have any presence at all in the area are tourism (hunting, safari adventures, etc), mining, and a few general stores. Now, the economy is growing, but it has a very very long way to go.

      • by mauriceh (3721)

        Agreed, and that is due to the fact that most international businesses and capital consider SA too risky.
        Look across the border due north to Rhodesia, ahem, I mean Zimbabwe.
        Look how well that worked out..

  • Between Jamaica and England.

  • Why build one when you can have two for twice the price.

  • by cforciea (1926392) on Wednesday April 11, 2012 @10:13AM (#39643691)
    They are just waiting to see which country loves the telescope enough to cede ownership rather than let it be cut in half, then they will give it to that country because they must be the real, loving mother!
    • by bug1 (96678)

      They should just let the telescope decide.

      Wont sombedy just think of the telescopes.

  • Since they agree that they're split, they should build half in Cape Town and the other half in Perth. That way they can have an 8690-Kilometre Array. Unless they've already printed their SKA stationary and the cost of reprinting it as 8690KA would be prohibitive.
  • If they do this then the likely outcome is that SKA will never happen. This sort of "compromise" as a way of avoiding having to make an actual decision is almost always the first step in a death spiral for the project. Case in point: the Joint Dark Energy Mission [nature.com], which crashed and burned due to pointless infighting between erstwhile collaborators on the mission.
  • Where's King Soloman [wikipedia.org] when you need him.
  • Apparently the government favors ISP-level censorship [slashdot.org], and I'd be worried about our point of contact with an alien civilization being behind a filter that scrubs all evidence of extraterrestrial intelligence because the very existence of aliens is "unpatriotic" or "offensive to certain religions." On the other hand, the do have the ability to use elephants to fight invasive species [slashdot.org]. Tough call.

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