The SKA Observatory (SKAO) and the National Research Council of Canada (NRC) have signed a cooperation agreement for two years. The agreement will see the NRC deliver the digital correlator, the “brain” behind the SKAO’s telescope in South Africa. The agreement also allows Canada’s scientific and engineering communities to continue participation in the project.
Access to SKA a top priority
Canada has been a member of the SKAO’s predecessor, the SKA Organisation, since its creation in 2011 and has been involved in the SKA Project from its earliest stages. Furthermore, Canadian astronomers have identified access to the SKA as a top priority in their Long-Range decadal Plans in 2000, 2010, and 2020. Scientists from across the country participate in nearly all SKAO science working groups. They generally cover the gamut from the astronomical systems to the earliest properties of our Universe.
“This agreement is important in solidifying Canada’s ongoing interest in the SKA Observatory through the National Research Council of Canada,” said Prof Phil Diamond, SKAO Director-General. “Our Canadian colleagues have been key partners in the SKA Project since its inception, with significant contributions to our telescopes. We look forward to continuing discussions with the NRC and the Canadian government about membership.”
Dr Kristine Spekkens, Canada’s SKA Science Director and Professor at the Royal Military College of Canada and Queen’s University, commented. She said: “The SKA will be a fantastic facility that will enable Canadian astronomers to make important discoveries about how the Universe works”. She added that the synergy between SKA’s capabilities and Canadian astronomy’s expertise is essential for the SKA’s importance in Canada.
Spin-offs to help advance other industries
Radio telescopes reveal the radio portion of the spectrum emitted from objects in space, unlike optical telescopes. When the telescopes receive these distant signals, they are typically faint and buried in noise. Thus, Canadian data processing technology is pursuing an extraordinary effort to identify and measure the weak signals from space in the large data stream from the SKA telescope in South Africa. The NRC’s Herzberg Astronomy and Astrophysics Research Centre and industry partner MDA developed the data processing technology.
Furthermore, the technical contributions to the SKAO telescopes have spin-off applications, which will help advance other, far-reaching industries. These industries will span from data centres to satellite communications, robotics, and more.
“This agreement will support leading-edge astronomy. It will also create opportunities for the Canadian industry with applications in telecommunications, consumer electronics, and data centres. Furthermore, it will open doors for ground-breaking discoveries by Canadian astronomers,” said NRC President Iain Stewart. “We are pleased to continue collaboration with our international partners on this transformative science facility.”
Positive socio-economic impacts already generated
Beyond transformative science and technology, impacts on society and communities have been a core consideration of the SKAO’s mission. Furthermore, respecting Indigenous cultures and local populations and positively engaging them has been critical for the SKA Project. These core principles align with the Canadian astronomical community’s priorities in the 2020 Long Range Plan for Canadian Astronomy.
SKAO and its precursor and pathfinder facilities around the world have already generated socio-economic impacts in several areas. These range from creating employment for local communities, boosting local education to local astro-tourism. It also includes celebrating artists and ancient cultural wisdom from the Australian and South African sites. This initiative is through the Shared Sky Indigenous astronomy and art exhibition. Building upon this, the SKAO will impact four core areas. These areas include the economy, society, sustainability and culture. Furthermore, it will contribute to addressing the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.