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SAfrica taken by surprise at giant telescope verdict

Published on 25/05/2012

South Africa said it was taken by surprise on Friday at the decision that it has to share with Australia the hosting of the world's most powerful radio telescope.

It will co-host with Australia the radio telescope that would give mankind its farthest peek into the Universe, the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) project announced in the Netherlands Friday.

Minister of Science and Technology Naledi Pandor said the decision to split the hosting of SKA was “unexpected”.

“We had hoped the unambiguous recommendation (to build the telescope in one location) … would be accepted as the most sound scientific outcome; however we accept the compromise in the interest of progress,” she told reporters.

Justin Jonas, a leading South African scientist with the telescope project said: “One may feel that this is a compromise situation, we might feel slightly disappointed that we didn’t get the whole thing, but I think we should emphasise that we did get the majority of … one of the largest scientific instruments in the world.

He added that it was a “turning point in Africa where we are becoming a destination for science and engineering, and not just perhaps a place where there are resources.”

The two southern-hemisphere countries had been fighting fiercely to host the innovation, billed as a revolutionary giant that will be 50 times more powerful than present radio telescopes. New Zealand is included in Australia’s bid.

Conceived more than two decades ago, the Square Kilometre Array aims at bringing together unprecedented size and new technology.