20 Apr 2012

NZ may get share if world's biggest telescope is split

7:36 pm on 20 April 2012

The world's largest telescope may end up being operated jointly by South Africa, and New Zealand and Australia.

The $NZ2.45 billion astronomy project, the Square Kilometre Array, will be a configuration of thousands of satellite dishes, wired together as a radio telescope to explore distant parts of the universe.

Australia and New Zealand are jointly bidding for the facility to be based in Western Australia - with one or two of its 3000 dishes in New Zealand - and are competing with an African consortium-led by South Africa, which would spread its array through 10 countries.

The global science body in charge of building it has said it is exploring possibilities to use both locations for the telescope, which has the processing power of about one-hundred million computers.

The head of the SKA organisation, John Wormersley - chief executive of the UK Science and Technology Facilities Council - said that a compromise may be one way to resolve the battle over siting the telescope.

"I have heard astronomers that I respect say that such a solution is possible," Womersley told the sciene journal Nature.

In March, Nature reported that a scientific panel had narrowly recommended South Africa over Australia as the best site, though a panel of experts is not expected to deliver its results until mid-May, when the SKA board will meet again to discuss the site.

Experts have said one solution would be to divide the project by placing the higher-frequency dishes on one continent and the lower-frequency antennas on the other.

Construction is likely to start in 2016 and expected to take six years to complete.