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The road to key science observations with the SKA kicks off in Stockholm

SKA Key Science Workshop poster

Stockholm, Monday 24 August – This morning the first SKA Key Science Workshop kicked off in Stockholm, Sweden. Some 150 astronomers from 23 countries have travelled to attend the meeting, the first of a series of such workshops over the next three years to define large scale collaborative projects looking at some of the key scientific questions the SKA hopes to answer.

“This week’s meeting in Stockholm is the start of an important process to establish the teams that will carry out some of the most exciting science we hope to conduct with the SKA.” explains Robert Braun, the SKA Science Director.

“It’s about discussing what scientific objectives these teams should focus on, who should lead them and how we can maximise what we call commensality – how multiple teams can use and benefit from the same data to conduct important science”.

Particularly, the meeting aims to start discussing the goals and composition of the major international teams that will carry out these key science observations in the first five years of operation of the telescope. During that period, around 50% of the telescope time is expected to be dedicated to these high-priority observations.

Many major areas of astrophysics are covered in these key projects including, among others, cosmology and the study of dark matter and dark energy; the search for life in the Universe through the study of molecules in forming planetary systems and the search for potential radio signals from intelligent civilisations; looking back at the cosmic dawn – the first billion years – of the Universe and the apparition of the first stars to study the distribution of hydrogen; mapping the thousands of pulsars in our galaxy; looking for gravitational waves and monitoring the sun’s activity.

Some of these are set to fundamentally change our understanding of the Universe, like the discovery of the accelerated expansion of the Universe did. “It’s my hope and belief that some of the young workshop participants sitting here today will be back in Stockholm in some years to receive a Nobel Prize” commented Swedish representative to the SKA Board and director of Onsala Space Observatory Prof. John Conway.

Although there are more than 150 participants at this meeting, many more will be involved in establishing the SKA key science projects, engaged through future workshops, eventually leading to a call for expressions of interest around 2018. These will be reviewed by a international panel of experts and allocated based on scientific merit, technical feasibility, representation of member countries and potential to benefit other science (commensality) among other criteria.

The meeting takes place in parallel to the publication of the SKA science book, a large two-volume collection of 135 refereed papers covering the main science observations to be carried out with the SKA.