The World Cup of Science

3 Mar


Comparisons between the 2010 World Cup and the Square Kilometre Array project have already begun, and jargon like “The World Cup of Science” will probably stick. Somewhere in the dusty Karoo town of Carnarvon you might even hear a lone vuvuzela. But make no mistake, while the World Cup was glamorous, the SKA project could benefit South Africa in a much more real way. So if you haven’t started getting excited about it yet, ALEX ELISEEV suggests you do. The SKA project is so cool it doesn’t even need a clever introduction. Once completed, it’ll be a cluster of 3,000 or more radio telescopes listening to the infinite universe and seeking answers to some of the most fundamental questions about its origin and evolution. It will look back in time, transforming radio waves into images of what stars and distant galaxies looked like hundreds of millions of years ago. It could turn some religious beliefs on their head as it creeps closer and closer to that incomprehensible moment when it all began. It will advance humanity and our understanding of the cosmos with all its beautiful black holes and mysterious dark matter. It will create employment, may see universities built and – as we saw last week – will benefit nearby schools which will get new science and computer laboratories. It will boost education and, if minister of science and technology, Naledi Pandor, is to be believed, could even turn the desolate Northern Cape into the “technology province” of South Africa. And the beauty is, we won’t even have to hand our country over to Sepp Blatter and his evil empire. And no need for Shell to frack up the Karoo. So whether you comprehend string theory, or are just excited in a “that’s pretty cool” kind of way, the SKA project will be a major asset to whichever country gets it. At the moment, it’s between us and Australia, with a decision expected early next year. The SKA telescopes will cost an estimated €1.5 billion to build and will require around €150 million to run each year. It is a major cash injection into the country, and a project which will require an array of local skills.

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