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Founding Members sign SKA Observatory treaty

SKA members signing treaty

Rome, Italy, Tuesday 12th of March 2019 - The Netherlands along with 6 other countries involved in the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) Project have come together in Rome for the signature of the international treaty establishing the intergovernmental organisation that will oversee the delivery of the worlds' largest radio telescope.

Ministers, Ambassadors and other high-level representatives from over 15 countries have gathered in the Italian capital for the signature of the treaty which establishes the Square Kilometre Array Observatory (SKAO), the intergovernmental organisation (IGO) tasked with delivering and operating SKA.

Prof. Carole Jackson, Director General of ASTRON said: "I am very proud that the Netherlands is a founding member of the new SKA Treaty organisation. ASTRON hosts the SKA office for the Netherlands and will be working with our international partners to deliver the full success of this new global telescope" 

Ingrid van Engelshoven, Minister of Education, Culture and Science said "Cooperation and a strong system are very important for Dutch science policy. That's why I strongly believe in joining world-class research facilities like the Square Kilometre Array. The Netherlands is excited to join this global endeavor, having full confidence that the SKA-telescope will be a world-class research facility delivering groundbreaking research in the years to come, providing new answers to questions in astronomy, data science and sustainable energy. Participation in SKA will bring scientific and economic fruits and will enable the Netherlands to strengthen its prominent position in the world of radio-astronomy."

Seven countries signed the treaty today, including Australia, China, Italy, The Netherlands, Portugal, South Africa and the United Kingdom. India and Sweden, who also took part in the multilateral negotiations to set up the SKA Observatory IGO, are following further internal processes before signing the treaty. Together, these countries will form the founding members of the new organisation.

The SKA will be the largest science facility on the planet, with infrastructure spread across three continents on both hemispheres. Its two networks of hundreds of dishes and thousands of antennas will be distributed over hundreds of kilometres in Australia and South Africa, with the Headquarters in the United Kingdom.

Together with facilities like the James Webb Space Telescope, CERN's Large Hadron Collider, the LIGO gravitational wave detector, the new generation of extremely large optical telescopes and the ITER fusion reactor, the SKA will be one of humanity's cornerstone physics machines in the 21st century.

It will help address fundamental gaps in our understanding of the Universe, enabling astronomers from its participating countries to study gravitational waves and test Einstein's theory of relativity in extreme environments, investigate the nature of the mysterious fast radio bursts, improve our understanding of the evolution of the Universe over billions of years, map hundreds of millions of galaxies and look for signs of life in the Universe.

Two of the world's fastest supercomputers will be needed to process the unprecedented amounts of data emanating from the telescopes, with some 600 petabytes expected to be stored and distributed worldwide to the science community every year, or the equivalent of over half a million laptops worth of data.

SKAO becomes only the second intergovernmental organisation dedicated to astronomy in the world, after the European Southern Observatory (ESO).

Link to the original press release

About the IGO

● The objective is to form a long-term, stable organisation that can build and operate the SKA internationally over 50+ years.
● The SKA Observatory is established by treaty negotiated by authorised state representatives, and composed of sovereign states as members.
● It involved a multilateral treaty negotiation over three and a half years.
● The SKA Observatory will enter into force once the treaty is ratified by five countries including all three hosts.
● The SKA Observatory joins the European Southern Observatory (ESO) as the only two IGOs in the world dedicated to astronomy.
● Negotiations were hosted by the Italian Government in Rome through the National Institute for Astrophysics (INAF).


About the SKA

The Square Kilometre Array (SKA) project is an international effort to build the world's largest radio telescope. The SKA is not a single telescope, but a collection of telescopes, called an array, to be spread over long distances. It will be constructed in Australia and South Africa with a later expansion in both countries and into other African countries.
The design has been led by the SKA Organisation based near Manchester, UK and supported by more than 1,000 engineers and scientists in 20 countries. The SKA Organisation is transitioning to the SKA Observatory, an intergovernmental organisation established by treaty, to undertake the construction and operation of the telescope.
The SKA will conduct transformational science and help to address fundamental gaps in our understanding of the Universe including the formation and evolution of galaxies, fundamental physics in extreme environments and the origins of life in the universe.

Picture: The initial signatories of the SKA Observatory Convention. From left to right: UK Ambassador to Italy Jill Morris, China's Vice Minister of Science and Technology Jianguo Zhang, Portugal's Minister for Science, Technology and Higher Education Manuel Heitor, Italian Minister of Education, Universities and Research Marco Bussetti, South Africa's Minister of Science and Technology Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane, the Netherlands Deputy Director of the Department for Science and Research Policy at the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science Oscar Delnooz, and Australia's Ambassador to Italy Greg French (Credit: SKA Organisation)