Meeting seeks new SKA collaborations

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When constructed, the SKA will be the world's largest radio telescope.
When constructed, the SKA will be the world's largest radio telescope.

The Square Kilometre Array (SKA) project's 2016 science conference - Science for the SKA Generation - has kicked off in Goa, India.

Some 200 astronomers from around the globe will attend the week-long conference, which this year focuses on bringing early career and senior researchers together to develop new collaborations and preview the science the SKA will undertake in 2023 and beyond.

"This week's meeting in Goa is an excellent opportunity to highlight results obtained with SKA pathfinder and precursor telescopes from around the world, as well as further advance the planning of our key science projects," says Robert Braun, the SKA's science director.

When constructed, the SKA will be the world's largest radio telescope. Engineering teams from around the world are finalising the design of the telescope, while the international astronomy community prepares to use this next-generation facility.

Understanding the universe

The SKA will conduct transformational science to improve our understanding of the universe and the laws of fundamental physics, monitoring the sky in unprecedented detail and mapping it hundreds of times faster than any current facility.

The SKA is not a single telescope, but a collection of telescopes or instruments, called an array, to be spread over long distances. The SKA is to be constructed in two phases: phase one in SA and Australia; phase two expanding into other African countries, with the component in Australia also being expanded.

Already supported by 10 member countries - SA, Australia, Canada, China, India, Italy, New Zealand, Sweden, The Netherlands and the UK - the SKA Organisation has brought together some of the world's finest scientists, engineers and policy-makers, and more than 100 companies and research institutions across 20 countries in the design and development of the telescope.

Construction of the SKA is set to start in 2018, with early science observations in the early 2020s.

The conference aims to bring together PhD students and postdoctoral researchers from the radio astronomy community to foster new collaborations for the SKA era.

"The next few years will see a wave of new results emerging from the suite of powerful radio telescopes such as FAST in China, GMRT in India, LOFAR in the Netherlands, MeerKAT and HERA in SA, and MWA and ASKAP in Australia. Scientists who are using these facilities will become the first generation of users to make exciting discoveries with the SKA," notes Braun.

High-priority objectives

With 60 talks and 90 posters to be presented, the meeting will run for five days, including two days of breakout sessions to discuss collaborations on the future key science projects of the SKA, following on from the previous meeting last year in Sweden. Key science projects are large observing campaigns focused on answering specific high-priority objectives that will utilise a large fraction of the first five years of SKA operations.

Many areas of astrophysics will be covered throughout the week, including the epoch of re-ionisation and the study of the cosmic dawn - the first billion years - of the universe; the distribution of hydrogen in the universe; the study of transient phenomena such as fast radio bursts; cosmic magnetism; monitoring the sun's activity; mapping pulsars in our galaxy; and the search for life in the Universe.

The meeting is organised by the international SKA Organisation, with the local support of the National Centre for Radio Astrophysics (NCRA) in Pune, India, which represents India in the SKA project.

"Several Indian scientists are already working on research areas relevant to the SKA and this meeting, being held in India, will help Indian scientists to become more involved with the SKA project and will give a big boost to SKA-related science activities within the country," says professor Swarna Kanti Ghosh, centre director, NCRA.

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