In 2012, after nearly two decades of early development work and campaigning by candidate sites, the SKA site was jointly awarded to Australia and southern Africa in order to exploit the strengths of both locations.
The low-frequency array of human-height radio antennas will be located in Western Australia’s Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory. The mid and high frequency components, including an array of several densely-packed 60m flat antennas as well as an array of thousands of 15m diameter dishes, will be deployed in South Africa’s Karoo Desert. To enhance image detail, the antennas will be placed in spiral configurations vast distances from these core regions, including in eight African nations, as well as central and eastern Australia.
Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory (Australia)
The Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory (MRO), located 700km north-east of Perth in the mid-west of Western Australia, boasts the rare combination of radio quietness, existing infrastructure and technological capabilities that makes it a near perfect site for radio astronomy.
- With less than 150 people in a region the size of the Netherlands, the MRO is naturally radio quiet, minimising any background ‘noise’ that may mask or distort a cosmic signal;
- A 520km radio-quiet zone has been implemented with support of Federal legislation, intergovernmental agreements and numerous management plans;
- Extensive high-capacity research data networks linked to SKA-compliant fibre-optic cable already exist on site;
- The available baseline spanning Australia will deliver images with unprecedented resolution;
- A demonstrated ability to efficiently construct and commission major telescope infrastructure at a remote site (the Murchison Widefield Array, MWA, and the Australian SKA Pathfinder, ASKAP); and
- Excellent geophysical and atmospheric conditions for all SKA frequencies.
Karoo Desert (South Africa)
The Karoo Radio Astronomy Observatory, 90km from the small Northern Cape town of Carnarvon in South Africa, also boasts great features for radio astronomy. Similar to Australia’s Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory, the Karoo Radio Astronomy Observatory is a radio quiet region that is relatively close to road and power infrastructure. The Karoo site has additional geographical benefits in flat-topped escarpments and 1000m hills that will provide shielding from radio and other electromagnetic sources.