Africa's Scientific Renaissance

The world's largest array of radio telescopes may soon be awarded to South Africa. Besides revolutionizing our knowledge of the cosmos, the project could spark a scientific renaissance.

What's the Latest Development?

South Africa may soon host the world's largest array of radio telescopes. Known as SKA, or the Square Kilometer Array, the telescopes would be 50-100 times more powerful than any current radio telescopes and be capable of seeing the universe closer to its point of origin than ever before. Later this month, nine countries—the U.S. not among them—are scheduled to commit preliminary funds to get the project off the ground. Then, in February, South Africa or Australia will be chosen as the final site for the project.

What's the Big Idea?

The SKA holds two big promises. One is pure scientific achievement. Because the array will be able to look back in time almost to the big bang itself, we can expect new data on how the first galaxies formed, dark matter and dark energy, the nature of gravity and the existence of intelligent life elsewhere in the universe. And if South Africa is chosen to host SKA, supporters hope the project's $9 billion price tag will benefit South Africa's society and spark a new sense of scientific achievement across the whole of Africa.

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