The desert regions of South Africa, provide the perfect radio quiet backdrop for the high and medium frequency arrays that will form a critical part of the SKA’s ground-breaking continent wide telescope.
Thousands of SKA antenna dishes will be built in South Africa (in the Karoo, not far from the small town called Carnarvon), with outstations in other parts of South Africa, as well as in eight African partner countries, namely Botswana, Ghana, Kenya, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia and Zambia. Another part of the telescope, the low-frequency array, will be built in Western Australia.
Radio telescopes must be located as far away as possible from man-made electronics or machines that emit radio waves that will interfere with the faint radio signals coming from the distant Universe. The site should also be high and dry, because some radio waves are absorbed by the moisture in our atmosphere.
South Africa already hosts the KAT-7 telescope array, an important testing ground for the MeerKAT telescope array, a 64 dish system which will form a precursor to the full SKA telescope.
In SKA Phase 1, the 64-dish MeerKAT precursor array which is currently under construction and expected to come online in a few years time will be integrated into SKA1 MID, with the construction of another 130 dishes. In total, SKA1 MID will count almost 200 dishes spread around the Karoo.
SKA1 MID will conduct observations in many exciting areas of science, such as gravitational waves, pulsars, and will search for signatures of life in the galaxy. It will provide a jump in capability, providing 4 times more resolution and 5 times more sensitivity than the JVLA, the current best telescope as similar frequencies. Additionally, it will be able to map the sky 60 times faster.