World’s Largest Radio Telescope to be headquartered at Jodrell Bank in England

The world’s largest radio telescope is to be headquartered at the University of Manchester’s Jodrell Bank site in England, members of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) announced earlier this week. The UK beat a rival bid from Italy.

The SKA Organisation said negotiations should begin with the British government.

The SKA project is an international effort to build the largest radio telescope in the world. It will eventually have more than one square kilometer (1 million sq metres) of collecting area. The SKA Organisation’s eleven member countries are: the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Sweden, South Africa, New Zealand, Italy, India, Germany, China, Canada and Australia.

SKA headquarters Jodrell Bank

An artist’s impression of the SKA headquarters at Jodrell Bank. (Image: University of Manchester)

Jodrell Bank, an observatory that hosts a number of radio telescopes, and is part of the Jodrell Bank Centre for Astrophysics at the University of Manchester, houses the headquarters of the multinational SKA project for the current pre-construction phase.

The plan now is to eventually expand these premises to support the project as it transitions into the construction phase.

Professor Philip Diamond, Director General of the SKA Organisation, said:

“I am delighted that a permanent home for the SKA headquarters has been identified. Clarity over the location of the headquarters is an important step for SKA, ahead of international negotiations to form an inter-governmental organisation and the beginning of construction in 2018.”

UK and Italy had submitted proposals

The selection process for choosing the permanent HQ started last year when, after an agreed plan had been negotiated, Members were invited to submit their bids.

According to the SKA Organisation, two bids were submitted – from UK and Italy – which were “judged to be excellent and both suitable for the project’s needs.”

After comprehensive consideration, SKA Organisation members voted for the Jodrell Bank site as its future headquarters, “thanks to the strong package offered by the UK government.”

The UK plan, supported by the Science and Technology Facilities Council (UK government), Cheshire East Council, the University of Manchester, and Oxford and Cambridge Universities, aims to design and build a unique campus for one of the most inspirational science projects of this century.

The headquarters will be built to meet the SKA project’s needs. There will also be space for expansion if needed at a later date.

Western Australia Antennas

Up to a million low-frequency antennas will eventually be located in Western Australia. (Image: skatelescope.org)

Prof. Diamond said, regarding Italy:

“Italy has been a key partner of the SKA since the early stages of the project”, said Professor Diamond. “I am confident they will maintain a high level of engagement on all fronts and I look forward to working with them as well as with all the other partner countries as we move into the next phase of the SKA.”

Thousands of dishes and 1 million antennas

The SKA project will eventually use up to one million antennas and thousands of dishes that will enable scientists to monitor the sky in unprecedented detail, and much faster than is possible with any currently available system.

Dishes in Africa

Eventually, thousands of mid-to-high frequency 15m dishes will be located in South Africa and Africa. (Image: skatelescope.org)

The SKA Organisation wrote:

“Its unique configuration will give the SKA unrivalled scope in observations, largely exceeding the image resolution quality of the Hubble Space Telescope.”

“Whilst also having the ability to image huge areas of sky in parallel a feat which no survey telescope has ever achieved on this scale with this level of sensitivity. With a range of other large telescopes in the optical and infra-red being built and launched in to space over the coming decades, the SKA will perfectly augment, complement and lead the way in scientific discovery.”

Comments from the University of Manchester:

Deputy President and Deputy Vice-Chancellor of The University of Manchester, Professor Colin Bailey, said:

“Locating the headquarters of the Square Kilometre Array, the world’s largest radio telescope, at Jodrell Bank builds on The University of Manchester’s long legacy of world leading radio astronomy as well as the UK’s leading activities in data intensive science.”

“More than 50 SKA staff are already at Jodrell Bank in a purpose-built building and we will now further develop the University’s site to meet the needs of this transformational project.”

Head of the School of Physics & Astronomy at The University of Manchester, Professor Stephen Watts said:

“This is great news for Jodrell Bank. Not only will it mean cutting edge science will continue to be carried out at the site for the foreseeable future but it will also help inspire the thousands of children who visit here every year from schools across the country. It is a great honour to be chosen as the headquarters of the largest telescope ever built.”

Jodrell Bank’s Associate Director for SKA, Dr Keith Grainge, also commented:

“We are delighted that the SKA Organisation has chosen to site its permanent headquarters at Jodrell Bank. Everybody here is now looking forward to working with our SKA colleagues and international partners in building the telescopes and delivering some incredible science.”

Video – The SKA Universe

This video includes a map of the world showing the SKA member nations, as well as the countries and universities involved in the ten consortia that work on designing the different parts of the project (work packages).

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