AUT’s view into deep space

Chris Barton, one of the Herald’s feature writer’s has a very interesting piece on AUT’s new radio telescope which will be officially launched on Wednesday afternoon.

Barton took a spin up to see the newly-completed dish in Warkworth with AUT’s Professor Sergei Gulyaev, who believes the $1 million installation boosts Australia’s chances of winning the deal to host the Square Kilometre Array, a massive radio telescope project that will boost greatly our ability to see into the depths of space.

Sergei Gulyaev

Barton writes: “Gulyaev believes New Zealand’s participation gives the Australian bid a technological edge that will be hard to beat. New Zealand sites would extend the scheme’s “baseline” – the distance

between the core and the outer reaches of the array – from the 3000 kilometres available across Australia, to 5500 kilometres.”

But how good really are Australia’s chances of winning the SKA project? This article from 2006 points out some of the relative benefits the two finalists – Australia and South Africa, have when it comes to pitching for the job. South Africa is in the same time zone as many of the scientists who will work on the SKA Project which may prove a practical advantage. It’s also closer to the sources of the bulk of the funding behind the $2.5 billion project, which also has to be advantageous.

Australia has the benefit of being able to spread a network of radio array across its vast continent (and extending it to a friendly neighbour – us). South Africa will have to spread its radio array across several African countries which may complicate things from a management point of view. Both countries are lobbying hard to be the host as to do so will have major benefits from a a science and technology point of view.

The Australian Government is putting $!50 million into the project for its “pathfinder”phase of the array. New Zealand, as Barton points out, hasn’t pledged any money yet but Prime Minister Helen Clark has said New Zealand is very keen to lend support. Whether that will extend to a financial contribution and how much may depend to some extent on what happens when New Zealand goes to the polls in a month’s time.