Artist’s impression of a SKA offset Gregorian dish. (Credit: Swinburne Astronomy Productions on a Creative Commons 3.0 license).
African radio astronomers are taking an innovative approach to a bid in hosting a unique proposal. The idea is known as the Square Kilometer Array, a radio observatory that will employ hundreds of dishes over a large area to scan and survey the radio sky in unprecedented detail. Much like the Allen Telescope Array being built in California, SKA’s strategy is to use the technique known as radio interferometry and go for many small dishes linked together rather than one large single antenna.
Slated to begin construction in 2013, initial site selection could come as early as next year. The Australian outback and South Africa’s Karoo site are already short listed; however, South African astronomers have decided not to wait. In a move demonstrating ingenuity and resourcefulness,promoters such as Justin Jonas are scouring the continent looking for defunct dishes. Once the backbone of communications infrastructure, these dishes are now being abandoned in favor of wireless and fiber-optic technology. Jonas and team are searching for about 20 each 30-meter dishes to become part of an ad hoc array. Already, South Africa’s KAT-7 array has been hugely successful, and the team is looking to complete a larger array known as Meer-KAT as a precursor to a hoped for landing of SKA. Such a move demonstrates the tenacity and forward thinking of the African team. And yes, in addition to looking at distant intergalactic radio sources, SKA will be used in the hunt for SETI… another rising radio astronomy star to keep an eye on is Simon Ratcliffe AKA the South Africa SKA projects’ very own “Barefoot Astronomer,” working tirelessly to promote astronomy on the African continent.
All this also begs the Sunday morning question; how bout’ all those backyard dishes now littering the local dump in YOUR respective neighborhood? Surely, some local astronomy club could start a local“mini-SETI” league? Could the “our town, our SETI,” idea catch on? Even if E.T. doesn’t come calling, think of the public outreach ops!