Astronomers gather in Vancouver to explore top-tier radio telescopes

by Anim van Wyk on 02 May 2023
The 21st century’s premier radio telescopes are the topic of discussion at an astronomy conference underway in Vancouver, Canada.

Close to 300 participants have gathered in person and online to examine the complementarity and synergies between the telescopes that the SKA Observatory is currently constructing in Australia and South Africa and the next generation Very Large Array (ngVLA) planned for the United States. 

The SKAO’s telescopes and the ngVLA will operate in different hemispheres and cover a vast swathe of the radio frequency spectrum between them. As such, they will form powerful instruments in the global astrophysics community’s toolbox. The telescopes will also complement other world-class ground- and space-based facilities operating at other frequencies, including the suite of Extremely Large Telescopes, the ALMA Observatory, and the James Webb Space Telescope.

The first day of “New Eyes on the Universe: SKAO and ngVLA'' commenced with updates on the telescopes from the leaders of the respective observatories, the SKAO’s Prof. Philip Diamond and Dr Tony Beasley of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO). Over five days, almost 60 other speakers will delve into the discoveries that the SKA and ngVLA telescopes should facilitate.

The SKA telescopes are set to be completed by the end of the decade, while the ngVLA – earmarked as the next major national facility in ground-based radio astronomy in the United States – is in the design phase.

Canada was chosen as conference location since the country’s National Research Council has been a key supporter of both telescope projects. The body currently represents Canada on the SKAO Council while the country’s government undertakes the process of seeking full membership of the intergovernmental organisation. Canada’s SKA science director and vice-chair of the SKAO’s Science and Engineering Advisory Council, Prof. Kristine Spekkens, is a speaker at the conference, with Canada’s observer on the SKAO Council, Dr Luc Simard, delivered the opening remarks, reminding delegates of the country's role in the global radio astronomy space.

Other speakers attached to the SKAO or its partner institutes include:

  • Dr Shari Breen: “Science operations of the SKAO”
  • Federico Di Vruno: “Impact of large satellite constellations on radio telescopes: overview and mitigation strategies”
  • Mathieu Isidro: “The SKA project's broader impacts”
  • Dr Kenda Knowles: “Galaxy clusters and cosmic magnetism en route to the SKA and ngVLA”

The SKAO’s Science Director, Dr Robert Braun, said: “I’m hoping that the meeting will stimulate an even greater degree of mutual understanding and spirit of collaboration amongst the world’s entire radio astronomy community. Diversification, in all its forms, is of exceptional benefit to us all.”

Find further details on the conference website.

Group photo of the attendees at the SKA-ngVLA science meeting, with the Vancouver skyline in the background
Almost 300 people are taking part in the conference in person in Vancouver and online. Credit: NRAO/Brian Kent