Australia Keywords:, South Africa, new generation radio telescope,SKA
A fierce competition has developed between Australia and New Zealand, on the one hand, and a group of southern African countries led by South Africa, on the other, for the right to become a place for the implementation of a unique scientific project - the construction of a giant radio telescope, which should consist of an array of antennas of various types installed on different extensive sites. Their total area is one million square meters, which is equal to almost 200 football fields.
It should repeatedly surpass all existing world analogues in both sensitivity and resolution. It is assumed that such a super telescope will help scientists answer many fundamental questions of astronomy and astrophysics.
INTERNATIONAL INNOVATION PROJECT OF THE CENTURY
The first ideas for creating a giant radio telescope to explore the universe originated in 1990. Three years later, the International Union of Radiosciences created a special group that developed the project "Very Large radio Telescope", which was then called Square Kilometer Array (SKA), and in translation into Russian - "Grid area of a square kilometer".
Step by step, events consistently developed like this. In 2000, an International Coordination Committee was formed in Amsterdam. Dozens of research institutes from different countries were involved in the project to one degree or another. The number of scientists and engineers actively involved in it grew every year. As for Russia's participation in the project, it is an observer - over the past few years, the Pushchino Radio Astronomy Observatory has been contributing to some scientific issues.
In April 2011, in Rome, nine countries-Australia, Great Britain, China, France, Germany, Holland, Italy, New Zealand and South Africa-signed a document on joint commitments to finance the project. Representatives of these countries will take part in the design, construction and management of the complex. And immediately after that, the main question was the choice of a possible location for the radio telescope.
Australians have always been sure that they, along with New Zealanders, are best suited to get the right to build a telescope. It was emphasized in every possible way that the indisputable advantages of these two countries are a stable society, economy, as well as a high level of development of national science and technology, modern technologies.
In addition, one of the three NASA outposts, the Tidbinbill Space Object Observation station, 40 km south of Canberra, is located and successfully operates in Australia. This facility has a special role due to its extremely favorable geographical location in the southern hemisphere (two other similar stations are located in the United States and Spain). In addition, Professor Brian Schmidt of the Australian National University, winner of the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics (along with two American scientists) for discovering the acceleration of the expansion of the universe, is participating in the project.
The giant telescope project was under special control of the Australian government. The Ministry of Science, Industry and Innovation (the main agency for SKA issues) was given priority to promote the Australian-New Zealand application for the location of the facility on its territory. Not far behind them were the South Africans, who also gave a lot of effort and money to promote the African proposal.
Until a few months ago, the situation was not in favor of the Australians and their neighbors-New Zealanders. Rumours leaked to the press that, according to the preliminary report, the Republic of South Africa was considered a better candidate, both from a scientific and commercial point of view, based on a combination of parameters. This didn't suit Canberra at all. The Labour political leadership, which was experiencing a crisis of voter confidence, could not allow a fiasco on the international azimuth and was ready to seek a final solution "at any cost".
The local officials believed that the application of Australia and New Zealand was the most optimal, and called on international experts to think first of all about objective factors, about science, and not about politics when making a final decision. The prevailing view was that many European countries prefer the African application, but they proceed from political considerations, believing that the funding of a scientific project will to a certain extent be beneficial.-
It will also contribute to the economic development of the African continent.
In this situation, the decision was made to use all available resources of the Australian establishment, academia and diplomacy.
Indeed, the arguments were weighty. The country's economy continues to show a solid "margin of safety" against the background of instability in global financial markets. The rating forecast for Australia from the world's leading agencies remains consistently at the highest level of AAA. In short, not every government can now "boast" of such economic indicators.
THE IDEA OF "DOUBLE PLACEMENT"
Australians and South Africans warmly welcomed the announcement from Amsterdam, where in May 2012 the decision was made to base a new generation radio telescope based on the idea of "double placement", i.e. on two continents - Africa and Australia. Thus, the approved joint project combined the Australian-New Zealand and South African proposals to install SKA "at home" and seemed to satisfy everyone.
Most of the mid-frequency antennas will be built in South Africa, while the low - frequency antenna complex will be built in Australia. Now Pretoria and Canberra intend to work closely on the practical implementation of this project. It is planned to lay a network of broadband fiber-optic cables and build power units to power the radio telescope.
Canberra intends to allocate for the project a vast area in the desert of Western Australia with a center on the site of the Murchison radio astronomy observatory, where there are no sources of electromagnetic radiation nearby that can interfere with the operation of the radio telescope. Some of the plates will also be placed in New Zealand.
South Africa has proposed its own site for construction - in the Karoo Desert on an area that is three times the size of the UK. In this case, the peripheral antennas will be located in parts of Namibia, Botswana, Ghana, Mozambique, Zambia, Kenya, Madagascar and Mauritius.
The construction of the radio telescope is expected to start in 2016. The participation of Australia and South Africa in such a large international project will increase the prestige of these countries in the global scientific space, attract advanced foreign experience and technologies, and create additional incentives for the economic, scientific and technological development of the regions. It is planned to spend about $2 billion on the implementation of the project (completion is planned in 2024). (The Sydney Morning Gerald. May 31, 2012).
DOUBTS AND PROSPECTS
Nevertheless, experts are already expressing some cautious doubts about the prospects for its practical implementation.
First, the Gillard government will likely have to rely on its own finances. It is unlikely that European partners will be prepared for significant "foreign" costs in the face of turbulence in the financial markets. Given the negative trends triggered by the global crisis, the Labor government continues to follow the path of maximum consolidation of public spending.
Secondly, there is no guarantee that Australians and South Africans will be able to collect all the necessary financial resources and "meet" the stated budget. In the context of the ongoing mining boom in Australia, for example, competition for "workers", especially in the construction sector, is playing to increase the already not cheap wages of workers. The "captains" of Australian big business express concern about the growing complex of systemic problems in the economy and criticize the ruling party for its "inefficient and short-sighted" policy: they say that Australia is increasingly losing out to other developed countries in everything related to competitiveness and labor productivity.
In any case, they are aware that with a suitable territory and basic telecommunications infrastructure, neither Australia nor South Africa will be able to achieve all their stated goals alone and are interested in the widest possible international support. Most of the modern technologies and equipment are expected to be found abroad.
Astronomers all over the world know that with each new type of telescope with a higher sensitivity, an unexpected phenomenon opens up for science that was not previously known and, in most cases, was not theoretically predicted. And scientists are looking forward to the upcoming revolutionary discoveries.
So the last point hasn't been set yet. Well, the Nobel Prizes are calling!
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