Germany, via its Federal Ministry of Education and Research, has become the tenth member country of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) Organisation.
The European country, along with Australia, Canada, China, Italy, the Netherlands, New Zealand, South Africa, Sweden, the United Kingdom and associate member India, will all contribute to the detailed design of the largest and most sensitive radio telescope ever built. SKA will allow astronomers to glimpse the formation and evolution of the first stars and galaxies after the Big Bang, investigate the nature of gravity and possibly even discover life beyond Earth.
SKA will be headquartered in South Africa’s Northern Cape near Carnarvon and its various components will stretch across eight African partner countries by 2024.
Professor John Womersley, SKA Organisation board chairman, welcomed Germany’s membership. “Germany has an excellent track record not only in radio astronomy but also in the management and delivery of science megaprojects and associated engineering. This expertise will be of great benefit to the SKA project as we move towards the construction phase of this inspirational telescope”, he said.
Dr Beatrix Vierkorn-Rudolph, deputy director general, Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) and Professor Michael Kramer, director of Max-Planck-Institut für Radioastronomie, an institute of the Max-Planck-Gesellschaft (MPG), have been appointed to represent Germany on the SKA board. The German contribution to the SKA Organisation amounts to a million Euros (about R11.2 million) and is financed 50% each by BMBF and MPG.
“We live in an exciting time for science and the unprecedented scale of the multi-national SKA project ensures we will continue to be able to push the boundaries of physics and astronomy. The SKA genuinely has the potential to completely transform our understanding of the universe as we know it today,” Kramer said.
In May 2012 the members of the SKA Organisation agreed on a dual site for the SKA to maximise on investments already made at the candidate sites in Australia and South Africa. Both sites offer exceptionally radio quiet environments for detecting very faint radio waves from the early universe and many thousands of SKA receptors will soon be constructed across these two desert regions. In September Professor Philip Diamond was appointed as the first permanent Director General of the SKA Organisation and in November staff moved into the new purpose-built SKA headquarters at Jodrell Bank Observatory near Manchester in the UK.