In July 2005, AUT University Professor Sergei Gulyaev and his colleagues spent a series of cold evenings huddled in Karaka, South Auckland, pointing a portable telescope at a plasma disc and black hole 4.5 billion light years away. At the same time, across the Tasman, Australian astronomers were studying the same object with their altogether grander telescopes.
Today, it's confirmed that Gulyaev and company's efforts were not in vain. Australia and New Zealand will combine forces in an attempt to become the home of the Square Kilometre Array—up to 4,000 antennas spread over a 5,000 kilometre baseline, creating by far the most powerful radio telescope ever built. It's claimed that it could be 10,000 times more powerful than current instruments.
The Australian and New Zealand governments outlined the partnership today. There are other countries also vying to host the telescope, but there are good reasons why this corner of the world should prevail. When I talked to Gulyaev about the project in 2006, he was adamant that the combined bid would be a compelling one. We'll know sometime around 2012 whether the next great scientific adventure will be partly hosted in New Zealand. It'll require a series of small steps to achieve that, but will be a giant leap when it happens.
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