SKA Teaser

Meanwhile, ground based astronomy continues. US chums pointed me at the NSF budget request. Of course this has to get through the House and the Senate, but so far astronomy seems to be holding its own, and LSST is proposed for a modest boost this year – $7.5M development, up from $4.0M last year. Construction starting in FY2015 still looks like the bet. Of course the scary thing in NSF land is the Portfolio Review . Stuff will close – but what ?

Back here in sunny Manchester, SKA Incorporated, which is of course a subsidiary of Rio Tinto Zinc, is teasing us.  The Big Decision is whether to build the beast in South Africa or Australia. This is a non-trivial economic and political issue, not just a scientific one. Things are hotting up. Like Telescoper, I was recently invited to a “webinar” to help promote the Australian case. (See Peter’s post  on this). I can’t claim to be as principled as Peter – I failed to respond because I was too darned busy. But it did also strike me as unnusual by astro-project standards.

And now, a press release about the site selection ! In the usual manner, I learned about this first from a Tweet by Paul Crowther, which then took me to an STFC announcement which had a link to a statement by the project. A site selection recommendation has been made ! Oh hang on.. its says “recommendation”, not “decision”… A committee has completed the evaluation, but the real decision will be taken by a Meeting of the Members about April-ish. Until then, nobody ain’t saying nuffing. They are just teasing us. Jeez.

I have always been puzzled by engagements. Stay with me. Why don’t people just get married ? But some people even announce when they are going to get engaged. Do they expect even more presents ? Anyway. SKA. Nothing has been built. They haven’t decided where or when they will start building. But they have publicly announced their intention to decide in the near future.

Warning ! Cartoon simplification approaching !

Sixty years ago radio astronomy was way ahead of the curve. Key scientists came out of the war with an understanding of how government actually worked, and the government understood that technology and science went hand in hand, and that academia could be useful. Money flowed.

Twenty years ago radio astronomy was sleepy town. Gentleman amateurs doing the same old science. Drinking tea in their tweed jackets in labs that still looked like they came straight out of Quatermass and the Pit. Lost the knack of making a pitch at PPARC committees etc.

Then somehow they woke up and it all swung round. SKA is a tightly controlled machine.  A couple of years back there was a lively discussion on this blog about future ground based facilities, but nobody was pitching for SKA. At a workshop I was attending, I mentioned this in passing to an SKA type I knew. Ahh, said s/he, this was discussed on a telecon the other day, and it was decided the policy was not to join in the e-Astronomer discussion.  My eyes bulged. It was amazing they even discussed the blog, and even more amazing they had a policy.

That evening, I mentioned this obliquely – without naming any names – in a blog post. The next day Person X told me I’d gotten them into trouble. They knew who it was. Is there some kind of SKA GCHQ ?

Well, probably one shouldn’t attribute too much technological power to SKA. As I write, their web site ain’t working.

By the way, it is a very groovy project. Just wish they chill out.

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8 Responses to SKA Teaser

  1. Could it be that since radio astronomy had a head start, it did essentially all it could do in terms of building better receivers etc early on so that a great leap forward was possible only after computing power allowed one to do much better interferometry? Other wavelengths benefited from increased computing power as well, of course, but progress was possible in other areas (better detectors, bigger telescopes, satellites etc) where computing wasn’t the key issue.

  2. David says:

    I heard that one idea is to split the project between the two countries.
    Other than the advantage of getting longer baselines for doing VLBI,
    is there any other reason for doing this ? Or is it just a political move ?

    Regarding the point of what got the radio astronomers to “wake-up”
    and get their act organized, I wonder if the aips++ experience served
    as part as that wake-up call. aips++ was an ambitious project in the 90′s to construct a new radio reduction software package that would work for data from all radio telescopes. I heard from many people that there were lots of problems and I wonder whether the desire not to repeat that experience is why the SKA people are so organized.

  3. John Peacock says:

    A major force behind the SKA’s momentum (in the UK, and internationally) was the sadly missed Steve Rawlings. I’m writing this in Heathrow on the way home from his memorial service, which was a heartwarming occasion. Even discounting the fact that everyone tries to speak well of a departed one, the speeches emphasised clearly the sheer degree of enthusiastic energy that Steve donated to the SKA project, and the pleasant manner that accompanied his contributions. The project is bigger than any one individual, but it’s hard to think of anyone who did more to turn SKA into a reality. And anyone who experienced Steve’s ironic sense of humour will know that he could never have been behind all this unappealing control-freak mentality. He’s a great loss.

  4. [...] the earlier teaser, rumours about the SKA site recommendation are leaking out through the press. South Africa has gone [...]

  5. cosmetice bio…

    [...]SKA Teaser « The e-Astronomer[...]…

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