Split sites for the Square Kilometer Array

Artist's impression of some SKA dishes (SKA Organisation/TDP/DRAO/Swinburne Astronomy Productions)

The Square Kilometer Array (SKA) is the next-generation mega-facility for radio astronomers, and for a few years now the decision on where to build the observatory was a tight race between Southern Africa and Australia/New Zealand. Roughly speaking, South Africa had the development angle, Australia the long and successful history in radio astronomy, and scientifically both were excellent candidates.

Yesterday at last the SKA Members announced their heavily anticipated decision: SKA will be built across both continents, integrating the facilities both South Africa and Australia are constructing as pathfinder projects – respectively MeerKAT and ASKAP. The official announcement is here, Jonathan Amos wrote this on BBC, David Smith and Ian Sample for the Guardian here and here.

The dual site solution to me always seemed like a difficult proposition: an observatory spread over such an area seems like a managerial nightmare, and I imagine the infrastructure costs will be increased as roads and buildings will be required both in Australia and Africa. But as I’m no radio expert I don’t know what the scientific implications really are. For that, I will defer to Peter Coles and  Andy Lawrence. Andy argues convincingly that it’s actually a pretty good decision for SKA science. Some good comments on Andy’s blog too.

Overall, people seem pretty happy with the solution – a job well done for SKA.