The world’s biggest astronomy project is split between Africa and Australasia. That gives South Africa, in particular, a chance to show its scientific mettle.
(Radio dishes look skyward. Credit: AFP)
“THE reputation of physics as the queen of sciences is reflected in the amount of money that governments are willing to spend on it. The Large Hadron Collider, Europe’s latest particle smasher, cost around $9 billion and took a decade to build. But, just occasionally, other fields get to play with some big, taxpayer-funded kit of their own, too.”
“On May 25th it was the astronomers’ turn in the limelight. For several years two groups of countries, one consisting of Australia and New Zealand, and the other of several sub-Saharan nations led by South Africa, have been polishing their rival bids to host the Square Kilometre Array, a gargantuan, €1.5 billion ($1.9 billion) radio telescope first proposed in 1991 and designed to be the most sensitive ever constructed. After months of deliberation, the SKA’s funding nations announced their decision: that the telescope would be split, and both groups would host a bit of it.”
“That the funding nations felt able to split the telescope in half reflects how closely matched the two bids were. Both consortia had constructed precursor telescopes that could be integrated into the SKA itself, and each bid had its advantages. The African bid, whose core will be in Northern Cape province, did well in the technical stakes, chiefly because the geography of the area allows a more efficient layout for the telescope, and also because electricity was thought likely to be cheaper there. The SKA will use about 110 megawatts when up and running, so power bills will be a significant expense. The Australasian bid, centred on the virtually unpopulated Shire of Murchison, in Western Australia, scored better for radio quietness (important to prevent interference), and on non-scientific factors such as political stability and the quality of the working environment.”
(Word on the street is that much of the decision of locating SKA came down to politics and was not as driven by the science requirements. The Economist story touches on this: “[M]any people—including Naledi Pandor, South Africa’s science minister, who said as much in an official statement—reckon that the decision had more to do with politics than science.” This is the nature of international collaboration: only by merging budgets is such blockbuster science possible, but it comes at a matching high political price. Politics driving science may be the new reality of the 21st century. -JCB)
(Artist impression of the James Webb telescope. Image credit: NASA)
“The US House Commerce, Justice, and Science Subcommittee has proposed a NASA spending bill that would put NASA’s budget at pre-2008 levels and cancel the over-budget James Webb Space Telescope. Space News reports that the proposal would cut $1.6 billion from NASA’s current budget, which is nearly $2 billion less than President Obama’s 2012 budget request for NASA, giving the space agency just $16.8 billion to work with.”
“This news is not sitting well with scientists and researchers, with some saying this move would “kill US space science for decades.” The Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA) quickly responded with a statement objecting to the axing of JWST, saying ‘Over the past year, NASA managers and the science community have undertaken a concerted effort to establish a budget and technology plan that allows the launch of JWST by 2018. The proposal by the Congress to terminate the program comes at a time when these efforts are coming to fruition.’ ”
Astronomy news, recent research results, and pretty pictures from the media along with context, commentary, and explanations for folks who dig this sort of thing. Written by a quasi-professional astronomer affiliated with the University of Texas at Austin.