SKA to unlock dark secrets

2012-05-28 16:04

Cape Town - The Square Kilometre Array (SKA) is unlikely to win a Nobel prize, but will give deeper understanding to phenomena such as dark matter and how the universe started.

Vishnu Vejjala, research chair in theoretical particle cosmology at the University of the Witwatersrand, said the $2bn SKA was simply too large a project to win Nobel prizes.

"Large experiments these days are disadvantaged when it comes to winning Nobel prizes. You have thousands of people working on one project. The Nobel is usually awarded to teams of three people at most.

"The sheer size of this project will make it very difficult to award a Nobel prize."

The measure of success for the SKA, which would be the world's most powerful radio telescope, would be the way it resolved outstanding problems in physics - like how galaxies were formed and secrets around "dark matter", Vejjala said.


Other projects and satellite missions are collecting similar data to what the SKA will collect, but the real benefit of the telescope will be the scale of information it picks up.

"The SKA lets us collect large amounts of data on a wide scale at different radio wavelengths. It is able to see things in greater detail. The sheer amount of data you are collecting is a positive."

An organisation such as Nasa (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) would benefit from SKA in the complementary projects it had with the telescope.

One of these is Nasa's Wmap project, which maps cosmic microwave backgrounds.

"If SKA can produce new data Nasa will go ahead with new experiments such as the Wmap project," he said.

University of KwaZulu-Natal astronomer Caroline Zunckel, who is a co-participant in the MeerKAT telescope project, said SKA had the potential to discover something "very exciting".

"The SKA, being considerably more powerful, will certainly deliver exciting results," she said.

Turning point

One of the key discoveries the project could make is in "dark energy". Dark energy, which makes up most of the universe, does not produce light, is not tangible in any way and behaves in the opposite way to normal matter.

"Dark energy is the entity that is causing the universe to expand in an accelerated fashion," she said.

"We have yet to establish the exact physics behind it, but the SKA could make some real progress... [on] dark energy."

The SKA will also study the formation of planets outside our solar system and would scan for radio signals from extra-terrestrial life.

The SKA site advisory committee said on Friday the project would be split between South Africa and Australia. Justin Jonas, associate director for science and engineering at the SKA, said the project marked a turning point in Africa as a destination for science and engineering.

South Africa will construct two of the three SKA receiver components. The SKA would be 50 times more sensitive than the most powerful existing radio telescopes.

It will have about 3 000 receiving dishes across South and east Africa.

South Africa's main site will be outside Carnarvon in the Karoo. Australia's core site will be the Mileura station, about 100km west of Meekathara in western Australia.

  • revaro.winkler - 2012-05-28 16:27

    thanks god for the day

      zaatheist - 2012-05-28 17:05

      DelusionBuster Whatever they find when it comes in to operation they certainly are not going to find one.

  • barBen666 - 2012-05-28 17:02

    Is it coincidence? South Africa employs the "MeerKAT" telescope project, Australia's SKA is about 100km west of "Meekathara" in western Australia.

  • jan.henning.14 - 2012-05-28 17:38

    Surprise! Dark matter doesn't exist. Recent discoveries points at the existence of galaxies where scientists theorised this 'dark matter' might be. Perhaps they should be looking closer to home. That big hole where taxpayer's money vanishes into.

      zaatheist - 2012-05-28 17:49

      Another Luddite.

      scott.kirby.752 - 2012-05-28 20:52

      It's impossible to say dark matter exists or not because no-one knows what it is... Is just a theory(there's that word again) to explain observed phenomena and unlike religiots scientists are more than happy to say they don't have a clue. Then build these immense projects to gain a better understanding.

      sycomachinery - 2012-05-29 07:37

      I agree, if dark matter exited they would have found it by now, I think the scientists should check their math.

  • nicolette.kapp - 2012-05-28 18:16

    So much for this thing???? R50 for The Bible... Just sayin! If u make this thing, stop complaining about money for unemployment, health issues, corruption and poverty, because clearly you have enough money. God bless

      zaatheist - 2012-05-28 19:12

      And another Luddite.

      scott.kirby.752 - 2012-05-28 20:57

      People like you drive me scats, I'm sure when they were designing the first particle accelerators you would have moaned about the cost. But without them, no MRI's no CT scans, and how many lives have they saved?? First electron microscopes, must be a waste of money but without them our knowledge of semiconductors would be limited and woah no computers. And why should we go into space, huuuuge waste of money.. But without those pioneers no DSTV, no weather information etc etc etc... Great thing is we have no idea what discoveries could be made by the SKA and that for me is bloody fantastic!!!!

      Clive.D.Buckley - 2012-05-29 07:38

      R50 for a Bible you say??? So it is very nearly cheaper than a bag of charcoal... not quite there yet, but when that day comes, you are gonna see the bible hit the best sellers list again :)

  • Clemons - 2012-05-31 22:21

    Dark Matter is one key to unlocking the universe secrets. SKA is just one more thing in helping us to understand our universe. Cool

  • Clemons - 2012-05-31 22:25

    SKA is key to unlocking the universe mystery. This well help in understanding dark matter more and also help with mapping it better. Cool.

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