Episode 61: Part 2 – SKAO Construction Commencement Ceremony – Australia
In the second part of Episode 61, Jacinta takes us on a journey to the SKA-Low site in Western Australia and shares her experience of the Construction Commencement Ceremony for the Square Kilometre Array that took place in December.
Jacinta visited the Murchison Radio Observatory (MRO) home of the Murchison Widefield Array (MWA) and the Australian Square Kilometre Array Observatory (ASKAP) and the site of the future SKA-low telescope.
Jacinta also spoke to various attendees including SKA Director-General Phil Diamond who we will hear from in another episode. Enjoy the journey through the day with Jacinta!
Above: Jacinta at the ASV2 array at the site of SKAO-mid in Western Australia.
[00:00:00] Jacinta: Welcome to the Cosmic Savannah with Dr Jacinta Delhaize
[00:00:08] Dan: and Dr Daniel Cunnama.
[00:00:10] Each episode we will be giving you a behind the scenes look at world class astronomy and astrophysics happening under African skies.
[00:00:16] Jacinta: Let us introduce you to the people involved, the technology we use, the exciting work we do and the fascinating discoveries we make.
[00:00:25] Dan: Sit back and relax as we take you on a safari through the skies.
[00:00:32] This is a behind the scenes one.
[00:00:34] Jacinta: What?
[00:00:35] Dan: We, I mean, yeah, this, this, this will be another behind the scenes one because we’re going to do behind the scenes on, on the construction commencement ceremony.
[00:00:43] Jacinta: I have no idea what you’re talking about. Oh, the last line of our intro.
[00:00:46] Dan: I don’t feel like Jacinta even listens to our own intro.
[00:00:50] Jacinta: I don’t. I just say it.
[00:00:57] Dan: Alright, welcome to part two of the commencement of construction ceremony episode for the SKA C3, where we will be visiting Australia this time.
[00:01:07] Jacinta: Yeah, so if you haven’t already listened to part one, go ahead and do that now. Otherwise, this one may not make as much sense. But basically, SKAO, massive new radio telescope, built half in Southern Africa, half in Western Australia, 30 years in the planning, and finally construction is commencing, and this was celebrated with a big ceremony.
[00:01:27] Dan went to the one in South Africa, and that was the part one of this episode, was Dan’s story, and today we’re going to be hearing about the Australian side of things, from me.
[00:01:39] Dan: So, yeah, you also went to to the site of the SKA in Western Australia. What’s there?
[00:01:45] Jacinta: Okay. Yeah. So I got a plane. Not as fancy as yours.
[00:01:49] Dan: I don’t know. This isn’t a grand caravan. Come on.
[00:01:52] Jacinta: Um, on the inside, no luxuries for us. I actually went on the media plane. I got to wear my media hat that day and that’s why I was got to go up to the ceremony, which I was very, very lucky, very excited to do. So we went to the MRO, the Murchison Radio Observatory. Which is about 300 kilometers northeast of the town of Geraldton in Western Australia, and it’s on a place called Boolardy Station.
[00:02:16] Dan: So we should point out that the reason these things are so far away, if we haven’t explained this before, is radio telescopes want to be really far from people. It’s not because we don’t like people.
[00:02:27] It’s because they introduce radio interference, you know, with cars, with TV, antenna, cell phones, all of those things are like spotlights shining in our radio telescopes. So that’s why we keep describing these places, which are very far from anything.
[00:02:41] Jacinta: Yeah. And the MRO on Boolardy station is about the size of the Netherlands and has a population of about two.
[00:02:48] Haha. So that’s kind of how remote we need, we need these telescopes to be. And on that station is already two precursors to the SKA. One is called ASKAP the Australian SKA Pathfinder. And that is made of what you’d kind of imagine to look like satellite dishes, 36 of those. Uh, 12 meters in diameter each, kind of scattered around the area, and also another radio telescope called the MWA, the Murchison Widefield Array.
[00:03:16] That doesn’t look like anything you would imagine a radio telescope to look like. It looks like metal spiders. So there are these kind of like, I don’t know what they call them, but like the grids of, I don’t know how many by how many, let’s say five by five of these metal spider looking things on the ground.
[00:03:32] And then there’s a whole bunch of those grids. Spread all over the MRO area, and this altogether makes the MWA telescope, which detects very low frequency radio waves, and is a precursor to SKA-Low, which will be built there.
[00:03:49] Dan: Valiant attempt. I think we will post a picture of the MWA there.
[00:03:52] Jacinta: Yeah, and I really need to find out how many, how many of these metal spiders are on a grid.
[00:03:57] Sorry, everyone, for not fact checking myself there.
[00:04:02] Dan: Alright so, and then as part of the SKA, they’ll be building new antenna right? Or some of these built yet?
[00:04:07] Jacinta: Yes, actually they are. So I should say that the metal spiders and also the new type where are often referred to as dipoles because they have, I guess, two poles, which is a tech team.
[00:04:16] I I’m not an engineer. I’m sorry. I’m just going to, I’m just going to like butcher that explanation, but anyway. That’s why we, the word dipole, which you’ll hear a little bit in the audio that’s upcoming, it refers to these low frequency antenna. The SKA-Low antennas will not look like the metal spiders.
[00:04:33] They were great test instruments, but these ones are actually going to look like metal Christmas trees, to be honest. They’ve got these like long, straight metal bits? Lines at the bottom. What would you call them? A bar? Dipole?
[00:04:47] Dan: I have an excellent story, which I just remembered. One of the things I got at the commencement of construction ceremony was a calendar. They gave us a nice SKA calendar for 2023. I can’t remember what month it was, maybe February, maybe March. Flipped over the calendar, there’s a picture of an array of these Christmas trees, these metal Christmas trees, and my daughter, who’s seven, and I guess it must have been January or February because it was just after Christmas, and she says, “Oh, wow. Christmas trees. Are they selling those?”.
[00:05:17] Jacinta: Oh, bless.
[00:05:20] Dan: So, yeah, I laughed.
[00:05:23] Jacinta: Oh, that’s so sweet. Anyway, they’re, they’re like large at the bottom and they go up to smaller at the top, and so they look like a Christmas tree. Okay. I’m really not painting a very good picture, so just look at our website for the, for the picture of these.
[00:05:36] But anyway, there was the second iteration. The test bed for what these will be. And it’s called AAVS2. Um, and it is a grid of 256 of these Christmas-tree-looking things. And it looks like a metal forest. And I got to walk through that.
[00:05:54] Dan: And they’re not selling them.
[00:05:55] Jacinta: They’re not selling them. I’m sorry.
[00:05:56] You’ll have to tell your daughter. Not yet anyway. Maybe we’ll get some Lego ones eventually or Meccano or something like that.
[00:06:03] Dan: Good idea.
[00:06:03] Jacinta: Yeah. I’m going to patent that.
[00:06:08] Dan: And while you were there, you also managed to speak to a couple of people.
[00:06:11] Jacinta: Yes, I got to speak to Dr. Sarah Pearce, who is the SKA-Low Telescope Director, and I also got to speak to some representatives from the First Nations people of the area, the Indigenous Aboriginal people, who are called the Wajarri Yamaji.
[00:06:28] And I managed to speak to Wendy Mary, who did the traditional welcome to country, which is something that happens at the beginning of each sort of meeting or ceremony that we officially have, a welcome to the country of the First Nations people. And I also managed to speak with Gail Simpson, who is another member of the Wajarri Yamaji.
[00:06:49] She’s an artist who created these beautiful traditional digging sticks with sort of traditional art on them. And these were used to represent the the quote unquote groundbreaking part of the groundbreaking ceremony where you didn’t actually need to break the ground because these represent the fact that we’re maybe turning over the soil a little bit, which is what you can do with the digging sticks, but we don’t actually need to disturb the land very much in order to build SKA-Low on this site. And this is very important to the First Nations people of the area. Um, and so this was, the digging sticks were a representation of that. And Gail managed to present those to several delegates who were, who were there for the event. And we of course had some speeches by several people, including Phil Diamond, Professor Phil Diamond, who is the director general of the SKA.
[00:07:37] I also managed to have a one on one chat with Phil, which we are going to play for you in a, in an upcoming episode, but we’ll leave that one for today. And actually my former PhD supervisor, Lister Savely-Smith, he was there and he gets to spill the tea on what it was like to have me-no I’m joking.
[00:07:51] Dan: Spill the tea!
[00:07:54] Jacinta: I’m, I’m young and hip and-
[00:07:55] Dan: Spill the beans, surely?
[00:07:55] Jacinta: No, the new word is tea. Do you not know this?
[00:07:58] Dan: Naturally not, well, presumably not. Are you sure you’re not that young?
[00:08:02] Jacinta: Okay, look, I think we’re, yeah, look, I think we’re dating ourselves now, let’s move on. Anyway, I think that’s enough prattle, so with all of that, uh, if you get confused by acronyms, you can go to our website.
[00:08:13] We’ve actually got, um, a page for astronomy acronyms because there are so many. Astronomers love their acronyms, you can check on there. But anyway, I’m going to be quiet now and we can listen to the recordings from the day.
[00:08:31] Dan: Excellent.
[00:08:31] Jacinta: Hello everyone. Uh, it’s very early morning here in Western Australia, which is about midnight in South Africa. I’m not even sure if you can hear me right now. That very loud buzzing in the background is the sound of the small plane that I’m in and we are taking off right now. We are on our way to the Murchison Radio Observatory, which is in the middle of the Murchison region of Western Australia.
[00:09:02] It’s a kind of a, a desert area. That’s where the SKA-Low is going to be built, and that’s where the Murchison Widefield array, the MWA is and where ASKAP is, the Australian SKA Pathfinder, both of which are precursor telescopes to the SKA. And today is a very exciting day because it is the construction commencement ceremony of the SKA. We’ve been waiting for so long and now it’s finally happening and I am so excited and so lucky to be able to attend the commencement ceremony in person. So I’m gonna be recording throughout the day and, um, bring you all the updates as they happen. Alright, I’m going to, um, turn this off for takeoff now.
[00:09:45] See you later.
[00:09:54] Oh my goodness, I see it! I see ASKAP! Oh, this is so exciting! Oh my gosh, yes! I can see the dishes! Oh, I can’t see the MWA yet. Oh cool, they just look like white dots on the ground spread apart. Oh, wow!
[00:10:22] Oh man, this is so cool.
[00:10:31] The antenna, the dishes are bigger than I thought they were. You can really see their structure from the air.
[00:10:42] We’ve now landed. We are in the Murchison and there is red dirt everywhere and kind of low-lying scrub. The temperature’s not too bad. I was expected to be hit by a massive heat wave as soon as I stepped out of the plane, but it’s not too bad yet. It’s still early morning. Let’s see. What time is it? 8am.
[00:11:01] Okay. So plenty of time for it to, to get very, very hot very, very soon. So I’m in a little bus now and we are on our way to somewhere. I don’t actually know where, but you’ll find out at the same time as me and I can see one, one dish, which is exciting. Yes. I’ll have a hat, please. Can I have an SKA hat?
[00:11:20] That’s exciting. Yes!
[00:11:26] I’ve seen my first dipole. I can see a few MWA dipoles scattered around. You kind of have to spot them like an Easter egg hunt. Well, it looks like randomly scattered from the ground. Oh, it’s so cool!
[00:11:41] Okay, we have arrived at the location where the commencement ceremony will be. Um, kind of canvas tents for some shade, some big SKAO signs. I’ve got my bonus SKAO hat. It’s wide brim. It has like a, a drop down flap at the back to protect our necks. The sun is very intense here. We’ve driven past a whole bunch of MWA dipoles on the way.
[00:12:07] So these are low frequency antenna, the Murchison Widefield Array Telescope, and they don’t look like what you might imagine a, a traditional radio telescope to look like. They kind of look like metal spiders. They’re these kind of grids, I think it’s four by four. So about 16 of these metal spiders, um, per grid.
[00:12:28] And those grids are spread all around this, Murchison region. We’ve passed, um, about a dozen of them already to the eye from the ground. It kind of looks like they’re just randomly spaced, randomly scattered around, but there’s a, there is a logical pattern to it, scientifically meaningful. And here we go at the event.
[00:12:47] There’s some chairs set up and a small stage at the front. There’s various members of the press are here already. And so let’s go find out what’s going to happen.
[00:13:06] With us now, we have Dr. Sarah Pearce, the SKA-Low Telescope Director. Welcome, Sarah.
[00:13:11] Sarah: Hi. Very nice to talk to you.
[00:13:13] Jacinta: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your role?
[00:13:16] Sarah: Yes. I’m the Telescope Director of the telescope here in Australia. So I’m employed by the SKA Observatory. And I lead the team here in Australia that we’re building in order to support the construction and then commissioning and the operations of the telescope.
[00:13:31] Jacinta: Wonderful. So this day must be particularly exciting for you.
[00:13:34] Sarah: It’s incredibly exciting. So it’s been 30 years since SKA was first proposed. And so it’s amazing to be just stood here ready to start construction on site today.
[00:13:44] Jacinta: Yeah, exactly. And are you new to Western Australia? Have you been here for a while?
[00:13:48] Sarah: So I’ve been in Western Australia for about a year. So moved to Western Australia in January this year for this role.
[00:13:54] Jacinta: It’s amazing to be out here in the Murchison today with the red dirt and the scrubs and to actually see the telescopes. themselves. Have you spent much time up here?
[00:14:02] Sarah: Yeah, look, I’ve been here a number of times.
[00:14:04] I imagine I’ll be spending a lot more time here over the next few years. I think it’s such a beautiful landscape. It’s also the home traditional lands of the Wajarri Yamaji people, and we’re incredibly grateful to the Wajarri Yamaji for agreeing to share their amazing country with us to allow us to build the telescope in this, really radio quiet site.
[00:14:25] Jacinta: Yeah, absolutely. It’s really impressive. And can you tell us more about the Indigenous Land Use Agreement?
[00:14:30] Sarah: Yeah, so the Indigenous Land Use Agreement is the formal agreement that will allow us to build SKA on this site. So it’s between the Wajarri Yamaji, the traditional owners, and the Commonwealth Government in Australia, CSIRO, and the West Australian Government.
[00:14:46] And so it was a six year negotiation, and for us it’s absolutely fundamental to allowing SKA. So it was fantastic to see that agreed unanimously by the Wajarri a bit over a month, couple of months ago now, and then formally registered a month ago.
[00:15:02] Jacinta: Yeah, it’s a very momentous occasion. So, with the SKA-Low, can you tell us a bit about the, the kind of timeline that we’re looking for?
[00:15:09] Obviously, the construction commencement ceremony is today, and then what are we looking for?
[00:15:14] Sarah: So, first of all, we’ll start by building the infrastructure. So, the roads and the buildings that we need in order to be able to build the telescope. We’ll level the ground where it needs to be and put the meshes down that the telescope antennas will be clipped onto.
[00:15:27] Then towards the end of next year, beginning of the year after, so probably early 2024, we’ll deploy the first four stations of the telescope. So SKA-Low will be 131 000 antennas when it’s complete. It will be split, so each of the antennas are grouped into stations. There’s 256 antennas in each station. And there will be 512 stations altogether, but we’ll start by building the first four.
[00:15:54] So about the first thousand antennas we’ll put down, and then we’ll take a brief pause, make sure that the antennas are behaving as we would expect, and that we’ve learned what we can about how to deploy them before we move on to deploying the next set.
[00:16:08] Jacinta: Wonderful, so that’s just mind boggling how many antennas there are going to be.
[00:16:12] How spread out are these stations going to be?
[00:16:15] Sarah: Yes, so they’re spread across 74 kilometers of the outback here in the Murchison. So there’ll be a central core, um, about a kilometer wide, which will essentially be full of antennas. And then there are three spiral arms that go out. In the end, you have something which is a bit like a kind of loose triangle with each side being 74 kilometers long.
[00:16:39] Jacinta: And is there a particular reason for that kind of spiral pattern?
[00:16:42] Sarah: Yeah, so that spiral pattern allows us to get good coverage of the sky as the, as the sky kind of moves across the telescope. We also need it to be… Relatively far apart. The further apart the furthest antennas are, the better resolution. So the more detail we can see.
[00:16:59] Jacinta: And what are the actual antennas going to look like? So the precursor to SKA-Low, the MWA, kind of just looks like metal spiders. And is the SKA-Low going to look, something similar or was that a bit different?
[00:17:11] Sarah: The antennas for SKA-Low are metal Christmas trees. Um, so they do look like Christmas trees.
[00:17:16] They’re about two metres tall, made out of aluminium. And they have what are called, what we call dipoles. So a little bit like your TV antenna. Um, but with small dipoles at the top, which allow us to see the higher frequencies, and then large ones at the bottom, which allow us to see the lower frequencies.
[00:17:34] Jacinta: There is a prototype of that at the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research, which is currently decorated as a Christmas tree.
[00:17:39] Sarah: Absolutely. I think there’ll be a question about how many we decorate as Christmas trees. Like, let’s see where we are next year and whether we’ve got enough to decorate.
[00:17:47] Jacinta: Final question. I know you’re very busy today, Sarah, but what are you excited about? science wise with the SKA-Low?
[00:17:53] Sarah: Look, so I think there were two answers to that question. The highest profile science goal for SKA-Low is the cosmic dawn. So to see the time about 300 million years after the Big Bang, when the very first stars and galaxies started to shine, this comes after the cosmic dark ages is a period that we’ve never been able to detect before.
[00:18:12] But the broader answer is. It’s a huge new telescope in a whole new region, and so it will open up an entirely new window to the universe for us. And so, I don’t know what it’s going to discover, and that, I think, is always the most exciting part of building a new instrument.
[00:18:29] Jacinta: Absolutely. The unknown unknowns.
[00:18:31] We can’t wait. Thank you so much for speaking with us today, Sarah.
[00:18:34] Sarah: Thanks very much. Great to chat to you.
[00:18:40] Jacinta: I’m here at the commencement ceremony of the Square Kilometre Array Observatory in the middle of the Murchison region. And with us here we have some very special guests. Would you mind introducing yourself and telling us about yourself?
[00:18:53] Wendy: My name is Wendy Mary and I’m around from the Murchison here, born, and grew up most of my life here on Boolardy.
[00:19:01] And I’m just here today.
[00:19:05] Jacinta: And we also have another guest here. Could you tell us who you are?
[00:19:08] Gail: Hi, my name’s Gail Simpson. I was raised around this area too, living on the station with my family, like with my dad and my mum, and many other families. So, yeah, it’s great to be back here. And to see this project happening.
[00:19:21] Jacinta: And so you mentioned that you kind of grew up around in this area. Could you tell us a little bit more about what it’s like to live on the land here and what that means to you?
[00:19:30] Gail: Oh, just, yeah, everything. It means so much. Just to be back on the country, like, when you got permission to come back, in other words, um, it just feels…
[00:19:40] Great, yeah, just, just a, um, great feeling I reckon, yeah. One of the things that is unique to, like, most Indigenous people here in Australia, and especially around this Murchison area, is that, um, at night time looking in the skies, And then you can see a emu up in the Southern Cross, along with the Southern Cross in the Milky Way.
[00:20:00] And when we’ve got that emu up in the sky at certain areas, we know when they’re going to be laying their eggs and when they’re getting ready to hatch and all that sort of stuff. So that’s actually what most of us can see in the night sky. So, which is a great thing for. Most Indigenous people around here, the Wajarri people mainly, so yeah.
[00:20:20] Jacinta: Yeah, there’s so much Indigenous knowledge around astronomy and the skies and, you know, the, I mean, I’ve heard the stories about, you know, seeing the eclipses through, like, burning and the smoke and you can see the eclipses. So much Indigenous knowledge, which is really great that it’s starting to be kind of more known.
[00:20:35] And I know there’s a lot of amazing art that has been produced around these sites. Can you tell us a bit more about that?
[00:20:41] Gail: Yes, with the art. That’s Aunty Wendy’s sister that does a lot of that, which is great. So it’s good to know that connection and I do some art of myself. I’ve actually made the digging sticks for today and each one has got a different story to it.
[00:20:55] So yeah, looking forward to telling everyone about those.
[00:20:59] Jacinta: Wonderful. Could you tell our listeners a little bit more about what is a digging stick?
[00:21:04] Gail: Digging stick is mainly-was used for, um, digging up food from underground, like, um, whether it’s going to be the yam or like sweet potatoes, that sort of stuff.
[00:21:13] Also used as a weapon probably sometimes when trying to hunt down kangaroos and whatnot. But yeah, I’ve never been known to use it. So it’s just a thing that was always used probably back in our day, but yeah.
[00:21:27] Jacinta: And how do you feel about having something like the SKA telescope built on this land?
[00:21:33] Gail: Ah, I reckon it’s great.
[00:21:34] It’s going to show the world that, um, this is what we’ve got and this is our country and our outback and, yeah, it’s great. Modern technology.
[00:21:43] Jacinta: Yeah, it really combines this ancient, ancient knowledge with the, the most advanced knowledge that we can and, and kind of bringing all of that together. It’s just an amazing circle.
[00:21:53] Gail: Yes, it is, definitely. Definitely.
[00:21:55] Jacinta: I believe that there is a now an indigenous name to this region?
[00:22:00] Wendy: Inyamangu Ilgri Wundera.
[00:22:03] Jacinta: And can you tell us what that means?
[00:22:05] Wendy: Sharing the stars and the sky.
[00:22:08] Jacinta: I think that’s an absolutely beautiful name because that’s exactly, you know, what we’re doing here. So thank you both very much for speaking with me.
[00:22:16] I really, really appreciate it. And I hope you enjoy the ceremony today.
[00:22:20] Gail: No worries. Thank you.
[00:22:30] Wendy: Good morning everyone. Um, first I’d like to say (speaking in Wajarri). Welcome to our home here on Yamaji Country.
[00:22:43] Um, first I’d like to introduce myself. My name is Wendy Mary and I’ve spent all, most of my life here growing up on Boolardy and I’m proud Yamaji from the Murchison and today I am going to welcome you to Country in Wajarri and then I’ll explain it in English.
[00:23:07] (welcome in Wajarri)
[00:23:53] We acknowledge the past, the present and emerging traditional owners of the country on which we are gathering. For they hold the hopes, the dreams, the tradition and the culture of all Yamatji people. Yamatji people used to walk all over this land, hunting, speaking in their own language, sleeping out in the open under the stars.
[00:24:14] We still hold a strong connection to the country, the water and the sky. So walk tall, enjoy, and stay safe on this land, Yamaji country. Thank you.
[00:24:37] (Traditional performance)
[00:24:46] Dear representatives and members of the lottery community, dear friends and colleagues, I’m delighted to stand here with you on country, representing the 16 member states that are part of the SKA Observatory, the global intergovernmental organization responsible for the construction and future operation of the SKA telescopes.
[00:25:40] On behalf of the SKA Observatory and our member states, I’d like to acknowledge the Wajarri Yamaji as the traditional custodians of the land on which we gather today and pay my respects to their elders past and present. I would also like to take a moment to acknowledge the name gifted by the Wajarri to this site.
[00:26:04] Inyarrimanha Ilgari Bundara, meaning sharing the sky and stars. It could not be more appropriate for what we hope to do here, uh, on Boolardy. From here, the SKA Observatory will share the sky and stars of Western Australia with scientists around the world. The SKA project has been many years in the making.
[00:26:32] And today we gather here to mark another important chapter in the 30 year journey that we’ve been on. A journey to deliver one of the world’s largest scientific instruments. Eighteen months ago, shortly after the formation of the observatory as a new entity, the SKAO Council approved the start of construction activities.
[00:26:59] Following the commitment of the funding by our member states. After an intense period of work, we now stand ready to start the physical construction of one of the SKA telescopes here in the Murchison. While a similar ceremony will take place later today in South Africa to mark the start of construction of the other SKA telescope.
[00:27:24] We look forward to working with our Australian and international partners. To achieve this vision with the support of our member states and to make the SKA telescopes a reality here in Australia and South Africa. Thank you very much.
[00:27:46] Jacinta: With us now is the Executive Director of the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research, Professor Lister Stavely-Smith.
[00:27:53] Welcome to the Cosmic Savannah, Lister.
[00:27:55] Lister: Thank you, Jacinta.
[00:27:58] Jacinta: Lister was, of course, my PhD supervisor and close collaborator. Um, we are both here in the Murchison today, and we have just attended the SKA construction commencement ceremony. How, how was that for you, Lister?
[00:28:11] Lister: It was absolutely amazing, Jacinta.
[00:28:13] We’ve been waiting for this for a long time. At least a decade. It’s finally here. It was terrific to fly in this morning over all the existing infrastructure and, uh, we really look forward to the construction of the SKA itself.
[00:28:28] Jacinta: Yeah, I remember when I was a little PhD student in my proposal we said we, we might be able to use some ASKAP data for my research.
[00:28:35] Of course that was delayed a little bit, but now as cap’s up and running and why is the SKA going to be so important? We’ve already got the MWA here and we’ve already got ASKAP. Why do we need the SKA?
[00:28:46] Lister: SKA is just so tremendously sensitive compared with any existing or previous telescope. It will enable us to see galaxies as they’re forming half a billion or hundreds of millions of years after the Big Bang.
[00:29:01] That’s, uh, you know, over 13 billion years ago. The universe was very different at that time, and it’s really important we understand how the universe, uh, formed and how… Galaxies and stars and planets like ourselves, our own planet, formed at the very earliest time.
[00:29:20] Jacinta: And what are you the most excited about to discover with the SKA?
[00:29:24] Lister: I might, uh, not, I think my younger colleagues like yourself will be around to use the SKA. I’m, uh, quite happy using, uh, ASKAP and MWA for the next, uh, few years, but I would be excited to discover or measure galaxies at, uh, very large distances from us, because, uh, we’re quite used to measuring and, uh, looking at galaxies, studying the properties of galaxies, like our own Milky Way, only a few billion light years away, but, uh, that dramatically changes when we look much further away in the universe, and that, that would…
[00:30:01] To me be the most dramatic thing to have happen.
[00:30:04] Jacinta: Yes, also myself since my research field is very similar to yours. I’m really looking forward to that. Is there anything else you’d like to share with listeners?
[00:30:13] Lister: Uh, look, I think, uh, both sites that have been declared operational today, or operational for construction rather, are the best radio sites in the world, and even though there are other telescopes around the world, other radio telescopes, what we have in these two sites is, uh, the absolute best location for observing the faint signals from the radio sky.
[00:30:35] Jacinta: Thanks very much, Lister. It was great to chat with you.
[00:30:37] Lister: Thank you, Jacinta, and good luck.
[00:30:41] Jacinta: Hello again. I am at, I think this is called AV1, although I need to check the name, but basically I’m walking through a forest of metal Christmas trees, and it is the coolest thing I have ever seen. It is… One of the, I think they called them pods or grids for SKA-Low.
[00:31:02] And I need to check the numbers, but I think there’s like hundreds of the low frequency antenna here that I’m walking around. So you might be able to hear the crunch under my feet. That’s kind of like a, a metal grid, kind of like thick chicken wire. And that’s reflecting the radio waves back up off the ground and in towards the antenna, which are the Christmas tree things.
[00:31:23] So I’ll-we’ll post a picture of this online so that you can see what I’m talking about, but this is one of the cooler experiences I’ve ever had. I must say. Yeah, it’s really, really special.
[00:31:42] Dan: Thank you, Jacinta. Can I just say, how’s your SKA hat?
[00:31:46] Jacinta: Spectacular. Thank you, Daniel.
[00:31:48] Dan: That’s exciting.
[00:31:49] Jacinta: You found it quite amusing how excited I was.
[00:31:52] Dan: That was brilliant. Definitely. Yeah. A highlight of, of the entire event, getting a hat.
[00:31:57] Jacinta: Well, the sad story is that I actually left in Australia by accident. I know.
[00:32:01] Dan: In the desert or no?
[00:32:02] Jacinta: No. In my home, so I still possess that. Oh, okay.
[00:32:05] Dan: You still possess it, you just don’t have it with you. Yeah.
[00:32:06] Jacinta: It’s a wide brim with a flap at the back. Keeps the, yeah.
[00:32:09] Dan: Flap at the back even? Right. It doesn’t, it doesn’t have the corks hanging off the side.
[00:32:13] Jacinta: No, no, that’s, that’s a stereotype that doesn’t exist in Australia.
[00:32:17] Dan: I’d like the stereotype to continue.
[00:32:21] Okay, enough about the hats. Thank you. It sounded like a very, very special occasion and, and well done for getting to speak to so many people. And we look forward to hearing what Phil had to say about it. And yeah, again, you got the, the SKA director there.
[00:32:37] Jacinta: Yeah, no, it was a really, really exciting day.
[00:32:39] Exhausting, of course, like a 4:30 am start and a 8:00 pm end or something like that. Very, very hot up in the Murchison, similar to the Karoo where you were. But I’ve never been there before. This was my, the first time. And as you can hear in the audio, I’m beside myself with excitement.
[00:32:58] Dan: That’s good. Geeking out about astronomy.
[00:33:00] Jacinta: Oh, absolutely.
[00:33:01] Dan: That’s what we’re here for.
[00:33:02] Jacinta: Exactly.
[00:33:03] Dan: And that’s what you’re here for, I hope, too.
[00:33:07] Jacinta: All right, I think we should probably end there for today, right?
[00:33:09] Dan: Yeah, I think so. Thanks again for joining us, and we hope you’ll join us again on the next episode of The Cosmic Savannah.
[00:33:15] Jacinta: You can visit our website, thecosmicsavannah.com, where we’ll have the transcript, links, pictures, and other stuff related to today’s episode.
[00:33:22] Dan: You can follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, at Cosmic Savannah, that’s Savannah spelled S A V A N N A H, and you can also find us on YouTube, where audio only episodes are uploaded. with closed captions which can be auto-translated into about 200 different languages, including Afrikaans, isiXhosa and isiZulu.
[00:33:39] Jacinta: Thanks to Wendy Mary, Gail Simpson, Professor Lister Stavely-Smith, and Dr. Sarah Pearce for speaking with us.
[00:33:45] Dan: Thanks as always to our social media manager, Sumari Hatting, and our audio editor, Jacob Fine.
[00:33:50] Jacinta: Also to Mark Olnutt for music production, Michal Wierczek for photography, Carl Jones for astrophotography, and Susie Karras for graphic design.
[00:33:58] Dan: We gratefully acknowledge support from the South African National Research Foundation, the South African Agency for Science and Technology Advancement, the South African Astronomical Observatory, and the University of Cape Town. Astronomy department.
[00:34:08] Jacinta: You can subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts and we’d really appreciate it if you could rate and review us and recommend us to a friend
[00:34:17] Dan: and we’ll speak to you next time on the Cosmic Savannah.
[00:34:30] great Filet
[00:34:33] Jacinta: Filet filet Mignon.
[00:34:34] Great filet.
[00:34:36] Dan: It’s a great filet.
[00:34:38] Jacinta: Did you have a great filet on your jet, private jet?
[00:34:43] Dan: This is not going to be the blooper because we’ve already got a couple from you.
[00:34:46] Jacinta: Yeah, but come on. That was a brilliant joke.
[00:34:49] Dan: It’s a nice attempt.
[00:34:50] Jacinta: Oh.
[00:34:52] Dan: No thank you, Jacob. And thank you, Jacob.
[00:34:56] Jacinta: Thanks.
[00:34:57] Dan: Goodbye.