Square Kilometre Array Organisation

in Speeches

In my maiden speech I spoke about those issues which unite all members of parliament and noted in particular the SKA project. On 25 May the International Square Kilometre Array Organisation announced that the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research in Western Australia had been successful in its bid to host the world's biggest and most powerful square kilometre array radio telescope.

This is fabulous news, although it has been a long time coming since they began their bidding process in 2005.

In the spirit of global research cooperation the SKA will be split between sites in Western Australia and South Africa. Australia's mid-west will hold two key components. The technology will be deployed at the Murchison Radio-Astronomy Observatory, where there will be a group of dishes with Australian-designed multi-pixel radio cameras. There will also be what is known as an aperture array, composed of vast clusters of antennae spread across thousands of kilometres and linked together to form a single telescope, measuring a million square metres. The precursor infrastructure at the site, including the Australian SKA Pathfinder and Murchison Widefield Array, was originally designed and developed by the CSIRO. Now that approval has been granted, the new SKA facility at the Murchison centre will be about 50 times larger than what exists at the site at the moment.

These technologies will make maps of the sky and then make expeditions or detailed investigations of what objects in the sky they uncover. Once the site in Australia has done wide-ranging, low-frequency expeditions, the South African site will then use its smaller, dish-shaped telescopes, known as MeerKAT, which will observe and analyse smaller sections of the sky in a much higher frequency and as such in much more thorough detail. The SKA will serve as a significant investment in Australia's scientific infrastructure and expertise in the already world-leading fields of Australian engineering, information technology and astronomy.

As Professor Peter Quinn said, once the telescope is completed we will be able to explore the universe in 10,000 times more detail than ever before. The telescope could even pick up a mobile phone call from Neptune. The task they face will be both challenging and rewarding. Their investigations may further uncover the true history of the universe, as they examine hydrogen gas clouds from the so-called dark ages of the early universe after the big bang. The technology will allow scientists to pick up and differentiate between signals emitted throughout the universe over billions of years and whether such a signal may have been artificially generated by extraterrestrial life.

Mr Anthony Schinckel, of the CSIRO, expressed the enormity of their task when he said:

We'll be seeing if we can work out where we came from, how life evolved on this planet, and whether it might have evolved somewhere else.

The result for both Australia and South Africa is the best outcome possible. It means that scientists in Western Australia can utilise previous investment and play to the strengths of Australian scientists in the field of astronomy. This will be a fantastic opportunity for Australia to host one of the great science projects of the 21st century and will benefit Australia's scientific community for decades to come. I congratulate Professor Peter Quinn and the dedicated team who have made this project possible.