The SKA Observatory (SKAO) is an intergovernmental organisation dedicated to radio astronomy and was launched on 4 February following its first council meeting. SKAO is tasked with “building and operating the two largest and most complex radio telescope networks ever conceived to address fundamental questions about our universe”.
SKAO has headquarters in the UK, and sites in South Africa and Australia. It is the world’s second inter-governmental organisation that is solely dedicated to astronomy, and other members include Italy, the Netherlands and Portugal. Observers include France, Germany, India, Spain and Sweden. SKAO will begin recruitment in Australia and South Africa in the next few months, working alongside local partners CSIRO and SARAO to supervise construction, which is expected to last eight years, with early science opportunities starting in the mid 2020s.
South Africa’s MeerKAT telescope, currently operated by SARAO (South African Radio Astronomy Observatory), will become part (and make up approximately 25%) of the SKA1-Mid telescope or Phase 1 of the SKA mid-frequency telescope.
MeerKAT, situated in the Karoo, consists of a 64 dish-shaped antennas. It is an SKA precursor or ‘pathfinder’ telescope, and is the most powerful radio telescope in the southern hemisphere. The MeerKAT antennas, each 13.5 metres in diameter and standing about four stories high, are distributed over 8 km and are connected by buried power lines and optical fibre connections to very fast computers in the underground Karoo Array Processor Building (KAPB) on the Losberg site.
Image: Nighttime composite image of the SKA combining all elements in South Africa and Australia. Credit: SKAO, ICRAR, SARAO / Acknowledgment: The GLEAM view of the centre of the Milky Way, in radio colour. Credit: Natasha Hurley-Walker (Curtin / ICRAR) and the GLEAM Team.