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Australia and South Africa To Share the Square Kilometer Array

Soulskill posted about 2 years ago | from the you-get-weekends-but-i-get-holidays dept.

Australia 79

ananyo writes "The battle for the world's largest radio telescope has ended in a draw. As an earlier Slashdot story suggested, South Africa and Australia are to split the Square Kilometre Array, a €1.5 billion (US$1.9 billion) project made up of 3,000 15-meter-wide dishes and an even larger number of simple antennas. The decision was announced at a meeting outside of Amsterdam in the Netherlands, following a vote by SKA's international board."

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What? (4, Funny)

durrr (1316311) | about 2 years ago | (#40108791)

So do we average out the proposed locations and put it in the middle of the ocean then?

Re:What? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40108805)

Nope, certain types of dishes are built in either country[1].

[1] http://www.skatelescope.org/news/dual-site-agreed-square-kilometre-array-telescope/

Re:What? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40121293)

Some context: Australia and South Africa are both building precursor arrays, ASKAP [wikipedia.org] and MeerKAT [wikipedia.org] respectively. The Australian one uses some new receivers that let them see ~30x as much of the sky at once, while the South African one uses a larger number of more conventional receivers. For phase I of the SKA, they're just going to expand these two telescopes with additional dishes (to about three times their currently-planned sizes).

This makes at least a bit of sense. The Australian design is optimised for quickly surveying large areas of the sky, while the South African design is good for doing more sensitive observations of anything interesting that shows up, so they complement each other. And by expanding telescopes that already exist (or at least will already exist when SKA funding starts), they get the benefit of proven (or will-have-been-proven) technology, rather than risking the SKA budget on absolute bleeding-edge technology.

Of course, this assumes that these precursor arrays really will have the bugs ironed out of them. The first 6 (out of 36) of the Australian receivers had about twice as much internal noise as they were supposed to in the higher-frequency part of their band, though they think they'll have this fixed with the next batch (later this year, I think). I'm less familiar with the progress of the South African telescope, but I know that after building the first 7 (out of 72) dishes, they've completely changed their dish design and pushed their completion date out by 4-6 years (to 2016-2018), which doesn't bode particularly well.

Disclaimer: IAAAA (I Am An Australian Astronomer).

Re:What? (1)

riT-k0MA (1653217) | more than 2 years ago | (#40133213)

They not only upgraded the dish design, but they upgraded the electronics package. The new boards [ska.ac.za] have about 2 times more memory with 4 times as much bandwidth, 5 times more processing power, and twice the I/O bandwidth.

Re:What? (1)

Nidi62 (1525137) | about 2 years ago | (#40108839)

Each country gets a one-half square kilometer array, obviously.

Re:What? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40108947)

now we will have two smaller arrays that won't always be able to aim at the same spot in the sky... and these are supposed to be smart scientists and researchers? sounds pretty dumb to me.

Re:What? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40108987)

Can't point to the same spot in the sky?

Take a look at the latitudes of southern Western Australia and South Africa, champ.

Re:What? (1)

RobertLTux (260313) | about 2 years ago | (#40108999)

err i think that they can combine the two datasets enough that it is practical to split things (and it should work if they don't go crosseyed)

Re:What? (1)

timeOday (582209) | about 2 years ago | (#40109729)

Hope they have a good Internet link from South Africa to Australia, they're going to need it!

(Or are radio telescope datasets not that big anymore in the age of Netflix?)

Re:What? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40110175)

As a radioastronomer, I say that you can start working once you get a few petabits/second links between the places...
The data rates are really gigantic, even when the samples are only 2 to 4 bits each. Yes even a 2 bit sampler only adds about 15% to the noise, provided the thresholds are properly chosen.

In other words, you can take the instantaneous voltage coming out of the receiver and classify it as either a) strong positive, b) weak positive, c) weak negative, or d) strong negative, and still have an efficiency of 88%. The trick is that you know that the signal is Gaussian noise, and you set the threshold between weak and strong at the right point on the edge of the Gaussian, so that you have about 30% of strong and 70% of weak. Than you have complex processing to make sense of it (this introduces distortion, but it can be corrected).

Now, I don't know which solutions they will use for the SKA, the description above works well for a small number of antennas, but for large number, the number of baselines normally shifts the balance towards different architectures.

Re:What? (1)

SuricouRaven (1897204) | about 2 years ago | (#40111373)

What about non-realtime? The scopes agree to record the same location, both record to local massive banks of hard drives. Then just load the drive banks into a shipping container and send the data physically to whichever supercomputer they use to churn through it all. It might mean a week of latency, but the universe isn't going anywhere.

Re:What? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40121147)

This is already done for really far-apart telescopes that don't have a good data connection. They call it Very Long Baseline Interferometry (VLBI). But there are all sorts of things that can go wrong with a telescope - and with VLBI, you don't find out until weeks later when you combine the data from separate telescopes at the correlator. If you're combining the data in real time, you can spot and fix problems immediately.

Re:What? (1)

tqk (413719) | about 2 years ago | (#40109555)

Each country gets a one-half square kilometer array, obviously.

... Which makes it an optical interferometer the size of half the planet. Cool.

Re:What? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40109619)

Or would be, if it were an optical telescope...

Re:What? (1)

tqk (413719) | about 2 years ago | (#40110087)

Or would be, if it were an optical telescope...

Crap. I first heard of the SKA when it was still in the "wouldn't it be neat" stage, and I was sure it was supposed to be an optical setup. That makes me wonder why they're doing it. They've had planetwide radio interferometry for decades. Must be a resolution thing?

Re:What? (1)

Patch86 (1465427) | about 2 years ago | (#40110541)

Yes. It's called the Square Kilometre Array because all of its receivers add up to 1km^2 surface area if they were all put side by side. Resolution is all to do with how much light(/IR) you can absorb, and that's directly related to how big your surface area is.

So 1km^2 of telescope means very good resolution.

Re:What? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40121201)

It's a sensitivity thing, not a resolution thing. We already have planet-sized radio interferometers with the same resolution as the SKA. The SKA's selling point is the 1 km^2 total area of all its component telescopes, which should let it detect very faint objects that existing telescopes can't see.

A square-kilometre optical telescope would be ... expensive. Optical parabolic reflectors, per area, are something like three orders of magnitude more expensive than their radio equivalents, which only need to be hammered out to plus or minus a few millimetres (rather than nanometres).

Re:What? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40108967)

So do we average out the proposed locations and put it in the middle of the ocean then?

Hmm... what a shame there wasn't an equivalenly deep body of water approximately half-way between Sydney and Melbourne when they chose where to site the Australian capital.... ;-)

Re:What? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40109017)

Since "split" and "average" are synonymous, sure.

What a let down for both sides... (0)

Quick Reply (688867) | about 2 years ago | (#40108797)

No WE are the rightful winner of all of it!

Re:What a let down for both sides... (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40108833)

No we are, who do you think you are!?

Re:What a let down for both sides... (0, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40108877)

We're us, of course. Who are you?

Re:What a let down for both sides... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40109199)

No thanks, I'm me. I have nothing to do with you or all of you.

Re:What a let down for both sides... (1)

JustOK (667959) | about 2 years ago | (#40109507)

Just like the rest of us.

I love that telescope's name (1)

mcgrew (92797) | about 2 years ago | (#40108799)

I wonder if one of the dishes is named "Reel Big Fish" and another one "Pietasters"? [wikipedia.org]

Buy 2 (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40108813)

Why buy 1 when you can buy two for twice the price?

They should have built the other one one in northern Canada though. Or maybe they will collaborate with the New Mexico array.

You know negotiations succeeded when... (5, Funny)

schitso (2541028) | about 2 years ago | (#40108827)

...each side comes out equally unhappy.

Re:You know negotiations succeeded when... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40108989)

Not really. South Africa will be hosting two-thirds of the telescopes so it's really little different for South Africa than if they had won it "alone" and had one-third of the telescopes spread across their northern neighbours.

Re:You know negotiations succeeded when... (1)

jd (1658) | about 2 years ago | (#40114521)

I doubt they'll be unhappy. The wider area means a larger virtual dish and therefore higher accuracy for the scientists. The higher total cost means that the vendors stand to make more money from this, not less. The distribution over two continents means you've twice as many science budgets (so lower cost to each individual tax payer).

Re:You know negotiations succeeded when... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40115511)

The wider area means a larger virtual dish and therefore higher accuracy for the scientists.

Nope. An object has to be above the horizon for both Africa and Australia at the same time for this to work, which happens rarely. This is why they're not even trying to do this - they're putting the high-frequency antennas in Africa and the low-frequency antennas in Australia. (You don't do interferometry between antennas of different frequencies.)

Really? (5, Interesting)

Zaldarr (2469168) | about 2 years ago | (#40108841)

You know, you could just give it to one of us. We can take bad news. What the hell even is this? Some kind of game children played in the 90's where everybody won? I was under the impression that we were doing science.

Re:Really? (3, Funny)

L4t3r4lu5 (1216702) | about 2 years ago | (#40108995)

Some kind of game children played in the 90's where everybody won?

There's no I in "team", but there's two in "Winning." You think that means we both win? Wrong. I win twice. Now give me that Silver medal.

Re:Really? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40109113)

There's no I in "team", but there's two in "Winning." Y

and 5 in "Individual Brilliance"

Re:Really? (1)

Anne_Nonymous (313852) | about 2 years ago | (#40109571)

>>There's no I in "team"

No, but if you play it right, there's a "me".

Re:Really? (2)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40109015)

Australia was the better site. Very stable country, low crime and secure location, virtually guaranteed not to get significant radio pollution nearby. The South African site was seen as the politically correct, charity "we're doing something good for the Africans" one.

Re:Really? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40109503)

Except that South Africa was regarded as the technically correct, not-charity, 'we're doing something good for science' one.

Re:Really? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40119727)

No it wasn't.

Re:Really? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40110169)

How would crime rate factor into it? It's in the middle of nowhere in the Karoo, where the most serious crime is likely littering or loitering. It's amazing the nonsense Aussies tell themselves.

Re:Really? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40119747)

Presumably scientists and engineers would like to visit the country, and stay somewhere nice while working. Not really difficult it it, chumbo?

Re:Really? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40111579)

Australia was the better site. Very stable country, low crime and secure location, virtually guaranteed not to get significant radio pollution nearby. The South African site was seen as the politically correct, charity "we're doing something good for the Africans" one.

Lol, butt hurt sheep shagger detected.

Re:Really? (1)

Hadlock (143607) | about 2 years ago | (#40109497)

It's also $1.5 billion net income for the winner. That's nothing to sneeze at. 100 scientist salaries @ $100,000/yr is an extra $10 million a year in to the local economy. They will have kids, drive new cars, pay local school taxes and send their kids to private schools, buy new clothes, buy the best food, etc etc. The people who sell them luxuries will be able to buy medium quality goods, who in turn will be able to buy walmart/low quality goods. I'm not sure what the total improvement is, but adding a bunch of high end jobs have a huge effect on the entire community and generally raises the quality of life for all involved. I'd fight like hell for that too; if I lost, I know I'd have let my community down, and tens, if not hundreds of kids would lose the chance to go to college.
 
Sure, it's just money. Money buys a lot of things though.

So it's a half-kilometer array? (5, Informative)

cpu6502 (1960974) | about 2 years ago | (#40108855)

No. They are splitting the frequencies, which is a pretty good idea: "Most of the subsequent telescope dishes and mid-frequency aperture arrays will be built in Southern Africa, while the low-frequency aperture array antennas will be positioned in Australia." - One kilometer of MF and one kilometer of LF reception.

Re:So it's a half-kilometer array? (1)

PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) | about 2 years ago | (#40108925)

. . . I thought that political arguments about science always reduced themselves to splitting hairs . . .

Re:So it's a half-kilometer array? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40109293)

So they're gonna use the same number of detectors they were planning to, but they will need to double the total dish area to 2 km^2, and double the amount of fiber optic cables to connect the dishes? Seems costly.

Shovel Ready (1)

ZombieBraintrust (1685608) | about 2 years ago | (#40112749)

And they won't be able to sync up the data between the two arrays because they will be in different locations. But as long as jobs are at stake the polititions will be happy with something that is more costly and less usefull.

Re:Shovel Ready (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40115527)

Syncing the data isn't important between arrays operating at different frequencies. The problem with splitting the array like this is that you can't (or can't often) get simultaneous observations at all frequencies.

Re:So it's a half-kilometer array? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40111101)

Exactly, as ever it's a shitty summary and nobody read TFA.

Why build one (2)

arcite (661011) | about 2 years ago | (#40108861)

When you can build two for double the money? Science won today my friends.

Re:Why build one (1)

kanto (1851816) | about 2 years ago | (#40108941)

When you can build two for double the money? Science won today my friends.

They're still building a one whole for double cost and triple uncertainty of will we ever get it to work at 100%.

Re:Why build one (1)

jd (1658) | about 2 years ago | (#40114623)

Politics is involved. That makes uncertainty infinite. Triple infinity is still infinity.

Re:Why build one (1)

M1FCJ (586251) | about 2 years ago | (#40114681)

Linking antennas is hold hat, we know that bit works fine.

Re:Why build one (1)

cute-boy (62961) | about 2 years ago | (#40114631)

It will be very hard to run two projects for the same amount of money as there will be duplicated costs in so many areas regarding the building and running of the infrastructure.

-R

Political correctness ties with science (2, Insightful)

onyxruby (118189) | about 2 years ago | (#40108879)

It is very disappointing to see that political correctness has been allowed to 'tie' with science. How is this any different than things like government quotas for hiring police officers and fire fighters that set different standards for passing the tests based on your race? Science should be blind to things like this, if the best site was in Australia, it should have gone there, if the best site was in South Africa it should have gone there.

Re:Political correctness ties with science (2)

TapeCutter (624760) | about 2 years ago | (#40109103)

The two sites are both as good as it gets. We now have two telescopes each concentrating on a seperate part of the spectrum. Cooperation between the two telescopes will overlap into other areas of science and engineering, spreading hands on experience as well as ideas. I think it's a great outcome for science and I really can't see any reason to bitch about the politics that has brought the project this close to shovels in the ground.

Disclaimer: I'm an Aussie taxpayer who would just like to see it up and running. Solomen's wisdom does not apply here, I'm happy to see the baby cut in half if it means it gets twice as much love. :).

Re:Political correctness ties with science (1)

fezzzz (1774514) | more than 2 years ago | (#40133241)

The two sites are not as good as it gets. The South African site is better by a large margin. It was the best in the scientific review and the best in the site review. Once you have the minimum radio silence required, you still need the infrastructure (roads and power to the stations - present in South Africa, but still needs to be built in Australia). Australian minimum wage is around 20x South African minimum wage and I would like to see Australia make 1 dish at the same price South Africa can make 10 dishes. The only reason Australia was included is because they started crying so badly when they lost, the panel felt too sorry for them to give them the back hand their proposal deserved.

Re:Political correctness ties with science (1)

fustakrakich (1673220) | about 2 years ago | (#40109399)

It is very disappointing to see that political correctness has been allowed to 'tie' with science.

It didn't 'tie' with science. It defeated science.

Re:Political correctness ties with science (1)

fredrated (639554) | about 2 years ago | (#40109647)

Two powerful interests clash and the outcome is a Solomonic splitting of the baby This happens when powers collide. For the life of me I can't derive 'political correctness' from any of this, perhaps you could explain further.

Re:Political correctness ties with science (1)

Hentes (2461350) | more than 2 years ago | (#40121831)

If that's the way to get countries to fund science projects than what's the problem? The cost increase isn't that much, and that extra money would be wasted otherwise anyway.

Re:Political correctness ties with science (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40129389)

Agreed

Name (2)

MikeMacK (788889) | about 2 years ago | (#40108893)

It's to be called the "Good Day Array"...

Re:Name (4, Funny)

TapeCutter (624760) | about 2 years ago | (#40108935)

But we will call it "Bruce" to avoid confusion.

Re:Name (3, Funny)

RivenAleem (1590553) | about 2 years ago | (#40109075)

Wasted a perfect opportunity to call it "Wisdom of Solomon Array"

How is it going to work? (1)

rossdee (243626) | about 2 years ago | (#40108901)

How is this going to work? When an astronomical object is visible to a telescope in South Africa, its not going to be visible to a telescope in Australia. I thought the idea of this was to have the whole array looking at the same thing in the sky.

Of course it could be good for getting 24/7 coverage of some event or 'message' from aliens like in Contact...

Re:How is it going to work? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40109407)

Take your foul disgusting logic and intelligent thought and be gone! We're talking modern science you barbarian and we have to be fair so no one really loose in this modern pc world

Re:How is it going to work? (1)

greylion3 (555507) | about 2 years ago | (#40109873)

Good point.
Ideally, we should probably have one in each hemisphere, and one on the equator, to be able to observe all objects and/or events fairly well.

Though by splitting it up, they're going to have to know the distance between the sites very precisely, to synchronize the images.
(as in; way better than GPS accuracy).

Problem is, if earthquakes in the (Richter) 8+ range modify the planet even slightly, the distance(s) will have to be measured again.
I'm thinking of something similar to the 2010 earthquake in Chile:
http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2010/03/100302-chile-earthquake-earth-axis-shortened-day/ [nationalgeographic.com]

If the axis shifts a little, hopefully it will just be a (software) reconfiguration matter.
if one of the arrays is close enough to an earthquake, the base of every dish in that array might have to be realigned - the axii of the dish support bases need to be parallel.

Re:How is it going to work? (2)

Millennium (2451) | about 2 years ago | (#40110139)

How is this going to work? When an astronomical object is visible to a telescope in South Africa, its not going to be visible to a telescope in Australia.

That's not actually the case: they're close enough geographically that for any given object in the sky, there is a window of time when it will be visible from both regions (day/night doesn't matter, since the telescopes don't use visible light). That object will certainly be in a different part of the sky in each region, but both should still be able to focus on it during the time when it's visible to both.

What this does do is shrink the aforementioned window of time, because the object has to be visible from both spots or the scheme doesn't work. Whether or not this is a really problem depends on what they use the telescope for. Evidently they don't think it will be an unacceptable thing.

My personal gripe with this is more from an engineering perspective than a scientific one (since I don't know enough about the science to judge one country as a particularly better location than another). The design didn't call for the thing to be split, much less between two continents. A cross-continental instrument could be interesting, but if they were going to do that then they should have designed for it. As it stands, I fail to see how this can possibly do anything but harm to the instrument.

Re:How is it going to work? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40110255)

These are NOT optical... it even says it in the summary. Rather they are splitting the frequencies being captures between the two locations (since lower freq and higher freqs requires different telescope anyways). That basically means it's doesn't have to capture the same thing. For large events, it will due to the earth rotation, for small ones, it may not depending how the current position of the earth but it also means it cover more events so it kinda evens out.

MARE (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40109057)

that *BSD 0Wned. NetBSD posts on at death's door

Australia should be "Australaysia" (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40109877)

New Zealand is sharing the win with Australia and South Africa. Small detail I know..

Re:Australia should be "Australaysia" (1)

arse maker (1058608) | about 2 years ago | (#40111971)

Well that would be Oceana since neither Australia or New Zealand are in Asia.

Re:Australia should be "Australaysia" (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40118905)

But they are both south of asia, which is what Australasia actually means.

Re:Australia should be "Australaysia" (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40114341)

And with Malaysia?

Re:Australia should be "Australaysia" (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40121493)

Similarly, "South Africa" should be just "Africa", because antennas will be built northwards over a decent fraction of the continent.

Very little ability to detect earth-like civs (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40110077)

http://www.mendeley.com/research/failure-serendipity-square-kilometre-array-struggle-eavesdrop-humanlike-extraterrestrial-intelligence/

The above study suggests that the SQA would be able to detect a "leaky-Earth" at distances up to 300ly, but we are gradually becoming more and more radio-quiet. I don't anticipate any SETI discoveries until we start taking this seriously. The SQA really needs to be a few factors of 10 larger and on the other side of the moon.

It's a three-way including New Zealand (1)

nzamps (2451628) | about 2 years ago | (#40114175)

The Ménage à Trois includes New Zealand...just to add to the fun

Re:It's a three-way including New Zealand (1)

gadfium (318941) | more than 2 years ago | (#40116197)

Far more countries than that involved. Namibia, Botswana, Mozambique, Kenya, Zambia, Mauritius and Madagascar will all have dishes too.

How will this work? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40115305)

Isn't this array planning on using interferometry techniques? How is that possible if parts of array can't see the same part of the sky at the same time?

Will the SA Scopes Survive (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40120937)

One of the questions asks is "How long will the South Africa Array Last?"

Some punters has serious objections to the SKA being in South Africa simply due to that the native population may disassemble and/or destroy it.

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