Looking for life, dark energy and the beginning of time

Australian Institute of Physics, Media releases

Australian physicists welcome $2 billion win for science

Southern Africa, Australia and NZ are to share the Square Kilometre Array – a giant radio telescope that will consist of thousands of separate radio dishes and other antennae spread across an area the size of a continent.

Australian Institute of Physics President, Dr Marc Duldig, today welcomed the decision to share the SKA telescope between the competing bids.

The Hubble Space Telescope has transformed our understanding of the Universe. Now this giant radio telescope will take us further: testing Einstein’s theory of general relativity; looking for dark energy; probing for evidence of life; and much more,” he says.

“The telescope will also be a beacon for science – especially in Africa – where it will inspire a generation of Africans to engage with science and engineering,” he says.

“The decision is a sensible compromise that takes advantage of the considerable investment in infrastructure and technological development already in place in Southern Africa and Australasia.”

“Each site will operate with different and complimentary observational capabilities. In Australia wide-field receivers will be employed for large area surveys (including investigating the enigmatic dark matter) and low frequency phased arrays will look back to the time when stars and galaxies first started to form.

“The decision builds on Australia’s 77 years of leadership in radio astronomy, born in Australia and the UK’s pioneering work on radar in World War II. Australian physicists were amongst the first to turn radar dishes to the stars. And that early work led to ‘The Dish’ at Parkes, to the Australia Telescope and to yesterday’s decision. It also led to the CSIRO invention that makes wi-fi fast and reliable. The technologies required to create the SKA will almost inevitably lead to life-changing technologies as well as new insights into our place in the Universe,” says Dr Warrick Couch, board member of the Australian Institute of Physics and director of the Centre for Astrophysics and Supercomputing at Swinburne University.

Australia’s part of the SKA will be built in outback Western Australia, at a site that offers the outstanding radio quietness needed to maximise the scientific potential of the SKA.

Some of the outstanding problems in astrophysics that the SKA will tackle are:

  • studying the extreme environments of pulsars and black holes to put Einstein’s theory of gravity, general relativity, to its most exacting test yet
  • understanding how the three major components of the Universe—matter, dark matter and dark energy—have evolved
  • investigating the end of the cosmic ‘Dark Ages,’ when the first black holes and stars appeared
  • probing for places and conditions where life might have arisen elsewhere in the Universe, and
  • examining the origin and evolution of one of the Universe’s most enigmatic features— cosmic magnetism.
  • Dr Marc Duldig, President of the Australian Institute of Physics and an astrophysicist +61 (421) 757285, Marc.Duldig@utas.edu.au
  • Dr Warrick Couch, board member of the Australian Institute of Physics and director of the Centre for Astrophysics and Supercomputing at Swinburne University, +61 (413) 011 371, wcouch@astro.swin.edu.au

Media contacts:

For further information

Niall Byrne, 0417 131 977, niall@scienceinpublic.com.au

For background including the history of radio astronomy in Australia, SKA projects, pictures, and links to other media releases: www.scienceinpublic.com.au