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RAS welcomes UK support for SKA and PLATO

Last Updated on Tuesday, 11 March 2014 14:19
Published on Tuesday, 11 March 2014 14:00

The UK Science Minister, David Willetts MP, today announced a total of £113 million of new funding to support UK involvement in the world's most powerful radio telescope and a new space mission that will search for Earth-like planets around other stars.

The radio telescope, the Square Kilometre Array (SKA), is under development in South Africa and Australia, with its headquarters at the Jodrell Bank Centre for Astrophysics in Manchester. When it begins full operations in 2025, SKA will have thousands of individual receivers with a total collecting area of one square kilometre, making it the most sensitive radio telescope yet built. SKA antennae will spread out for at least 3000 km from the 'cores' in Australia and South Africa, giving radio astronomers a view of the sky's southern hemisphere in unprecedented detail.

ska night mediumArtist's impression of the Square Kilometre Array at night. Visible in the image are two different types of dishes and an array of antennae on the ground, which will combine to provide astronomers with an unprecendented view of the radio sky. Credit: SKA Organisation. Click for a larger version.

In his speech, David Willetts pledged £88 million of investment for the construction of the SKA, boosting UK involvement in the project.

The Minister also announced £25 million of investment in the Planetary Transits and Oscillations of stars (PLATO) mission, a European Space Agency space observatory that will use a suite of telescopes to search for and analyse rocky planets in orbit around other stars. After PLATO is launched in 2024, space scientists and astronomers will use it to try to find planets similar to the Earth, not just in size but with the other characteristics that could make them habitable.

David SouthwoodProf. David Southwood, President of the RASProfessor David Southwood, the President of the Royal Astronomical Society, welcomed the new funding:

"This is great news for astronomers and space scientists. UK researchers have been at the cutting edge of radio astronomy since Jodrell Bank was set up after the Second World War. The new investment in SKA recognises this strength.

"PLATO is a mission that will help us find where our Earth and Sun sit in the universe. Do other planets and stars exist that could sustain life like that here? The observatory is a big step not just for space astronomers  it will drive the work of observatories on the ground as well.

"The UK is one of the best places in the world to do astronomy. When our scientists have the opportunity to work on inspiring projects on the ground and in space and in the process solve enormously complex engineering and scientific challenges, it helps us retain that leading position."