Australia commits to hosting giant radio telescope

AP News

3/14/2012 2:02:35 AM - AP News

Australia said Wednesday that it remains committed to beating South Africa to host the world's largest and most sensitive radio telescope, which will address fundamental questions about the universe including how the first black holes were formed.

A consortium of 20 countries will announce as early as next month whether South Africa or a joint bid from Australia and New Zealand will be chosen to host the Square Kilometer Array, which will be 50 times more sensitive and survey the sky 10,000 times faster than any other telescope.

It will be used for research into fundamental unanswered questions about the universe including: How do galaxies evolve? What is the nature of dark energy that is thought to expand the universe? How were the first black holes and stars formed and what generates giant magnetic fields in space?

Australia's Fairfax Media newspapers reported at the weekend that the Manchester, U.K.-based consortium's scientific advisory panel had recently recommended South Africa in a confidential report. Nature magazine reported the result was close. The sources of the reports were not identified.

China, Italy, Britain and the Netherlands will make the final decision on where the 1.5 billion euro ($2 billion) telescope, known by its initials SKA, will be built. It is being paid for by 67 organizations in 20 countries.

Science Minister Chris Evans said he had already visited China and Italy to push Australia's case and would continue to lobby.

"We are confined by confidentiality agreements about discussing issues while the process is still proceeding, but it's fair to say that we are still absolutely committed to winning the bid," Evans told the National Press Club.

"We're doing everything we can to win it in what is a very competitive process," he added.

Evans said the Australian bid's greatest obstacle was a perception within the consortium that Africa needed the money.

"To be frank, I think the thing that works against us the most is the sympathy for doing more in Africa _ the European view which says we ought to be doing more development in Africa and I think that is something that at a political level is quite strong," Evans said.

Construction of the telescope, with a collecting area of receptors totaling 10,800 square feet (1 square kilometer), is set to begin in 2016. It will comprise 3,000 antenna dishes each 15 yards (15 meters) wide extending in a spiral more than 1,900 miles (3,000 kilometers) from the array's center.