Back on the plane from Sicily to the UK, I finally had some time to reflect and write about last week’s exciting SKA science conference that happened in Giardini Naxos from June 8-13 (and of which I was part of the organising team).
Some 250 astronomers flew from around the world and gathered for one week to present their work on the groundbreaking science the SKA will do. The variety of talks and fields explored was truly impressive, with talks ranging from pulsar studies, cosmic magnetism studies, galaxy evolution, star formation and even exobiology and the search for extraterrestrial intelligence.
There was clear excitement in the scientific community all week and astronomers took to Twitter to communicate to the rest of the community and to the outside world on the science, but also to convey their enthusiasm, which was great to witness. Some presenters even had their final slides include a summary in 140 characters for the “Twitterati”.
Transformational is the word that was most used, and when it became overused, participants switched to game-changing. There was even talk of Nobel prizes, and yes, that is with an s. The bottom line is, while we cannot yet write about research done with the SKA and discoveries made with it, one thing is sure: the SKA will revolutionise our understanding of the Universe and I cannot wait to write about the incredible discoveries it will make!
Chris Carilli on pulsar studies of gravitational waves: “I expect three Nobel prizes to come out of this work” #skascicon14
— Jacinta Delhaize (@jdelhaize) June 13, 2014
The conference was also a great opportunity for me to realise the breath of science that will be undertaken with the SKA, and what it means for astronomers to have this telescope at their disposal. In fact, the SKA looks more like an observatory equipped with various instruments, allowing users to conduct a range of observations and research.
And it won’t only benefit astronomers, but also physicists with the tests of general relativity and gravity in extreme environments it will allow. I was equally impressed by the serious discussions on the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, and by the looks of it, the SKA will be a game-changing (for lack of a better word) instrument in this field, whose implications, should we detect an intelligent signal, are simply beyond words.
SETI search with SKA1 will survey all stars/stellar systems within 200light years #skascicon14
— Dr Brian Boyle (@BrianBoyleSKA) June 12, 2014
Siemion: SKA will be first world-class telescope for which SETI is part of the design process and is a standard observing mode. #skascicon14
— Bryan Gaensler (@SciBry) June 12, 2014
There is a long road ahead to build the SKA and fund it, and there are always surprises along the way as we saw last week, but its fantastic to see so much enthusiasm from the science community, and to see just how the SKA will help us better understand the Universe we live in.
The next big stop for the SKA is the engineering conference in Perth at the end of September which I’m helping to organise, where all the teams working on designing the telescope around the world will converge to give updates on their progress. It is bound to be another great week for the SKA, showing all the progress already made everywhere.
And because a picture is worth a thousand words: