The news this week that the Square Kilometre Array will be shared between sites in Australia and South Africa seems to have been received well in Australian science circles. What opportunities and challenges will this mammoth science project bring to engaging the community with science? Much of the science is complex but the project attracts media attention partly because of its scale and expense, and partly because of the competition between nations to win the bid.
Astronomy holds the fascination of a wide range of people even though few are aware of how the technology developed to study the stars has impacted on their everyday lives. Wireless LAN was a recent spin-off of radio astronomy. The very scale of the SKA should bring new developments as technology evolves to process the vast amounts of data and other extreme needs of the project.
But what of the science? The antennae in the different continents will scan the sky for signals of different radio wavelengths. One set of antennae record the longer wavelengths, the other the shorter. It’s like listening to different messengers who each bring separate parts of the overall message.
Perhaps by splitting the project between the two main nations the SKA decision has both divided the wavelengths and multiplied the world’s attention. ‘Watch this space’ becomes ‘watch these spaces’ or more properly ‘watch these outer spaces’.
In the spirit of sharing perhaps my opening question becomes, “What will SKA do for science communication and what should science communicators do for SKA?” My antennae are listening for your replies.