The Square Kilometer Array Observatory is an international project that will have a big impact on the basic understanding of the Universe. It already has a huge societal, cultural and economical impact as well
The SKA Observatory, known as SKAO, is a multinational radio astronomy facility with a mission to build and operate cutting-edge radio telescopes to transform our understanding of the universe and benefit society through global collaboration and innovation. While its core mission is scientific, the focus of this presentation is on how SKAO is actively working towards building a sustainable radio astronomy observatory.
SKAO’s international footprint is extensive, with 16 member countries and several observers from various continents. Notably, 11 member countries are part of the G20, and three are part of BRICS, demonstrating its unique global collaboration and potential impact.
Telescopes in remore locations
As an inter-governmental organization, SKAO is responsible for building two telescopes on two remote sites in South Africa, and in Australia. These remote locations were chosen to minimize human interference. The project’s total cost exceeds €2 billion, covering construction and the first decade of operation.
The SKA telescopes promise to cover a vast range of scientific areas, from studying the formation of the first stars and galaxies after the Big Bang to exploring pulsars, gravitational waves, dark energy, dark matter, and even the search for extraterrestrial life. However, the main focus of this discussion is on the non-science impact, which includes contributions to the economy, society, culture, and sustainability.
- China has hosted summer schools to train university students in data processing and imaging, fostering the growth of radio astronomy in the country;
- the production of SKA dishes involves global collaboration, generating highly skilled jobs in countries like China, Sweden, Spain, Italy, and South Africa;
- South Africa has invested significantly in human capital development, offering training and grants, which benefits not only South Africa but also other African countries.
- events like Australia’s Astrofest attract tens of thousands of visitors, inspiring the younger generation and promoting STEM disciplines;
- during the COVID-19 pandemic, SKAO partners in South Africa designed and manufactured low-cost ventilators, demonstrating how basic science can directly impact society;
- SKAO acts as a tool for science diplomacy, fostering international connections and collaboration for peace and development.
- agreements, such as the Indigenous land use agreement in Australia, promote the preservation of cultural heritage, provide job opportunities for local communities, and establish true partnerships with indigenous populations;
- SKAO engages in art exhibitions and occasionally appears in pop culture, connecting with art enthusiasts and inspiring people about the wonders of the universe.
- SKAO promotes renewable energy, with solar power stations reducing diesel consumption and carbon emissions significantly;
- in South Africa, the land around the telescope has been classified as a national park, benefiting to nature protection
- in Australia, 600 hectares of land have been covered to ensure the full protection of the sacred sites and the cultural areas of relevance for the Aboriginal community.
In conclusion, the SKA Observatory is not only advancing the frontiers of astronomy but is also actively working to have a positive impact on the economy, society, culture, and sustainability. Through international collaboration and innovation, SKAO is building a sustainable radio astronomy observatory that benefits not only the scientific community but also humanity at large.