Australia and Africa in bid for SKA location, radio telescope could discover extraterrestrial life

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July 5, 2011 6:07 PM EST

The world's most powerful radio telescope could find a home in Western Australia if it wins over other countries including South Africa to host the massive Square Kilometer Array (SKA) radio telescope.

Australia is competing with lead partner South Africa and eight other African countries for the right to build the 1.5 billion euro project and is being called the "World Cup of Science". The SKA telescope will be the most sensitive radio telescope ever built. The SKA could potentially pick up alien signals and will investigate other mysteries of the universe like dark matter and how it helped the formation of stars.

Professor Watson, astronomer in charge at the Australian Astronomical Observatory at Coonabarabran in NSW said the SKA is important in asking about the big questions in science. "Always with these things the most exciting discoveries are the ones that are completely unexpected. So who knows what a facility like this might produce?"

If Australia wins the bid the SKA telescope will be built in the Murchison region in the WA outback. An international panel of experts will decide in 2012 where the final location will be.

The Murchison region in the WA outback is vying with a site in southern Africa for the SKA with a group of international scientists expected to make a final decision in 2012.

A meeting in Canada this week will bring together scientists, engineers and government representatives and could give clues as to where the SKA will be located. Once the location has been finalized the array will begin construction in 2016 and will be fully operational by 2024.

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