Jamie Morton is the NZ Herald's science reporter.

NZ pumps more cash into science mega-project

An artist's impression of some of the millions of antennae that will comprise the global Square Kilometre Array radio telescope. Image / Supplied
An artist's impression of some of the millions of antennae that will comprise the global Square Kilometre Array radio telescope. Image / Supplied

New Zealand is pumping more cash into the world's most ambitious science and IT project, bringing its investment in the gigantic Square Kilometre Array to more than $2 million.

New Zealand is one of 10 nations with a key role in building the vast radio telescope network in the deserts of Australia and South Africa.

Once it becomes operational from 2021, the SKA telescope will help to create data images allowing scientists to see back to the early stages of the universe.

While New Zealand missed out on hosting part of the array, it has now contributed around $2.2 million towards it, with news today the Government would be investing a further $488,000.

The country is also contributing a large team of university researchers and industry partners, with a primary aim of designing the Science Data Processor that will combine the processing power of 100 million computers.

The SKA's dishes will produce 10 times the amount of today's global internet traffic, spitting out enough data that just one day's worth would take nearly two million years to play back on an iPod.

The collaboration is working on cutting-edge computer nodes, algorithms and software to ensure the supercomputer will keep up with the unprecedented data rates.

Read more: Is there anybody out there?

Auckland University of Technology scientist Dr Andrew Ensor, who heads the NZ SKA Alliance, said the global project represented many firsts for New Zealand - including being the largest science effort Kiwis have ever led substantial parts of, and what was becoming the country's longest-ever academic-industry collaboration.

Nicolas Erdody said his Oamaru-based software company Open Parallel had had up to a dozen people working on the SKA computing work for the past six years.

The new funding would mean more staff and more collaboration with top universities and foreign multinational companies.

Read more: Super-scope huge for NZ - expert

Beyond benefits to New Zealand - some players have suggested it could help make the country a "global data hub" - it's likely we cannot even dream of predicting today the biggest discoveries the SKA will make.

It's partly why the SKA will have a life span of at least 50 years, first taking shape with 200 dishes in South Africa and about 130,000 in Australia, all of which will be in place by 2023.

By 2030, the project will have been scaled up to 2000 dishes in South Africa and one million antennae in Australia.

The SKA telescope

• Will be the world's largest, most sensitive radio telescope, costing more than $2 billion and involving 350 scientists and engineers.

• Stationed in Australia and Africa, the telescope will consist of dishes and millions of dipole radio receptors.

• With an effective collecting area of 1 sq km, will be 100 times as sensitive as the biggest present-day telescopes and have image resolution quality 50 times the Hubble telescope's.

- NZ Herald

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