26 June 2012

Mozambique: Exact Location of SKA Telescope Sought

Photo: SKA Africa
A portion of the Karoo Array Telescope - known as KAT-7 - in Northern Province, South Africa.

Maputo — Scientists are seeking the best location for the second site in Mozambique for the world's largest and most powerful telescope, the Square Kilometre Array (SKA).

In May, the British based organisation SKA decided to build the telescope in southern Africa and Australasia.

In southern Africa it will be centred in the Karoo desert, with three thousand antennas spread out across Botswana, Ghana, Kenya, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia and Zambia.

In Mozambique, it has been decided to host a site at the Science and Technology Park in Maluana, Maputo province, with 24 fifteen metre wide dishes.

A second site is planned to be located in the administrative post of Dombe, in the central province of Manica.

However, a visit to the site on Friday by the Minister of Science and Technology, Venancio Massingue, has left doubts about the location set aside for the site, which is 35 kilometres away from Dombe and uninhabited.

According to the local authority, the proposed area is occasionally flooded by the River Lucite. As a result, the head of the administrative post has suggested that the site be moved closer to Dombe.

Massingue stressed that the decision needs to be taken by the experts, but welcomed efforts to find an alternative.

He pointed out that locating part of the SKA telescope in Mozambique is an honour and "part of the dream of establishing a Mozambican Space Agency".

The SKA telescope will be fifty times more sensitive than the most powerful telescope in existence today, picking up electromagnetic radiation and cosmic rays emitted by extremely distant celestial objects (such as stars and galaxies).

It will be able to interpret the data it receives ten thousand times faster than any previous telescope. This will require processing power equal to several million computers to sift through the same amount of data each day as two days' worth of global internet traffic.

The cost of the project is likely to be more than the budgeted 1.5 billion euros because SKA failed to decide whether to locate the telescope in southern Africa or Australasia. Instead, it decided to split the project between the two lead partners.

The SKA telescope will look at fundamental questions that we have not yet answered about the universe, including what happened moments after the big bang, why the universe is expanding at an accelerating speed, the role of magnetism and the nature of gravity.

The project is due to be completed in 2024.

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