It is a bit awkward to announce a telescope array that will cover an entire square kilometer, then to split it into segments that will operate in three nations. No matter how they are split up, the resulting set of arrays, will search for extraterrestrial intelligence at a rate 10,000 times faster and 50 times more sensitive than ever before.
But why is the array being split between Australia, New Zealand and South Africa? According to Nature, many are calling the decision a politically expedient one, but no one is being clear about why the decision involved politics. The fact is that South Africa and Australia already have infrastructure that was built as precursors to the SKA. New Zealand joined with Australia to create an “intense” bidding war, and the three nations are committing a lot of land to the array, which will create a total field of 3,000 dishes, each dish being 15 metres wide, plus even more antennae and other infrastructure.
The decision seemed to be based more on science and economic expediency than political expediency. South Africa won over the science panel by a slight margin and will receive most of the dishes. The science panel of SKA has not published detailed reasons. The South African location also had higher altitude, a remote location in the northern part of the nation, and lower construction costs. Australia and New Zealand argued that insurance costs will be lower and that the infrastructure was better. Those two countries will host the low-frequency radio antennas. Also, the separation will create costly redundancies, including access roads, staff housing, security setups and support structures.
The Australian site will be able to survey a wide range while South Africa will be able to look deeply into a narrower range of space.
According to the Daily Mail, “The SKA will consist of thousands of dishes across 1,900 miles, with a total surface area of one square kilometre. SKA will provide so much data that one astronomer has declared it will completely change our view of the universe.”
The goal of the constructing agency, the SKA organisation plan for construction to begin in 2016 and for the array to come online in 2024. The cost will be 350 million euro or $440 million for the first phase alone.
The IBM array computer is being designed to process as much information as is processed in a day over the entire internet. The computer will pore through radio wave data with enough power to take a look at conditions that existed 13 billion years ago. The Daily Mail reports that “The machine will be millions of times more powerful than the fastest PCs today – and will deal with 100 times more information than the output of the Large Hadron Collider.”