SCIENCE
05/24/2012 10:28 am ET Updated Jul 24, 2012

Square Kilometer Array Decision Could Come Friday

(Reuters) - A decision on where to site the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) radio telescope, either South Africa or Australia and New Zealand, could be made on Friday.

Scientists hope the telescope will help answer fundamental questions about the origin and evolution of the universe, and whether it contains life beyond our planet.

Here is a look at the radio telescope:

WHAT DOES IT DO?

-The SKA will drive technology development particularly in information and communication technology. Spin-off innovations in this area will benefit other systems that process large volumes of data from geographically dispersed sources.

-The energy requirements of the SKA also present an opportunity to accelerate technology development in scalable renewable energy generation, distribution, storage and demand reduction.

QUICK FACTS:

* The telescope will be 50 times more sensitive and 10,000 times faster than any other telescope on the planet, according to the international consortium funding the $2 billion project.

* The Britain-based consortium behind the project includes Canada, China, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom as well as Australia and South Africa.

* The SKA central computer will have the processing power of about one hundred million PCs.

* The SKA will use enough optical fiber to wrap twice around the Earth.

* The dishes and other receivers of the SKA will produce data in a volume that far exceeds current internet traffic.

* The SKA will generate enough raw data to fill 15 million 64 GB iPods every day and would take nearly two million years to playback on an ipod.

* The telescope should be fully operational by 2024 with construction phases 1 and 2 construction to take place between 2016-2023.

* First science is expected in 2019

* WHERE TO CHOOSE:

- South Africa and Australia may be asked to join forces in building and operating the SKA.

- One factor is the "radio quietness" of the site chosen - the SKA site needs to be free from radio frequency interference (RFI). RFI essentially refers to man-made radio signals - including those signals created by radio and television stations that can outshine the signals astronomers are interested in detecting.

- Other criteria for choosing the site are the physical characteristics including climate and subsurface temperatures. Connectivity across the vast extent of the telescope itself as well as to communications networks for worldwide distribution of data produced by the SKA.

- The board will also take account of infrastructure costs, including power supply and distribution.

- The eventual decision has been made more difficult by the two clashing. South Africa has accused Australia of dirty tricks and Australians have raised security concerns about building such an expensive project in South Africa, which has high rates of violent crime.

- South Africa had accused Australia of "selectively leaking" data about what are supposed to be secret deliberations in order to boost its own bid.

Sources: Reuters/All Africa/http://www.skatelescope.org

(Reporting by David Cutler, London Editorial Reference Unit)

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