29 January 2020 – The Cherenkov Telescope Array Observatory (CTAO) and the Square Kilometre Array Organisation (SKAO) will engage in closer collaboration under a new agreement signed by the two research infrastructures. The Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) will facilitate greater sharing of knowledge and expertise in areas including engineering, science, technology and administration.
The CTAO and SKAO are both large international collaborations and have several member countries in common, including many European countries but also astronomy organisations in Australia and South Africa. Like CTA, which will have two arrays of telescopes on different continents observing gamma rays, one in Chile and one on La Palma in the Canary Islands (Spain), the SKA will also have radio telescopes in Australia and South Africa. The two observatories are due to begin delivering science within just a few years of each other.
Both have also begun transitions on the governance front; the CTAO is becoming a European Research Infrastructure Consortium (ERIC), while the SKA is becoming an intergovernmental organisation or IGO.
“In this age of multi-messenger astronomy, building alliances with observatories across the spectrum is critical to achieving our common missions to expand our view and understanding of the Universe,” says Federico Ferrini, CTAO Managing Director. “The CTAO-SKAO partnership was an obvious fit due to our vast similarities, and we are looking forward to the collaboration.”
“Both the SKA and CTA are pushing the boundaries of what’s possible technically, scientifically and logistically, and some of the challenges that brings are common to both projects,” says Simon Berry, Director of Strategy for the SKA. “This MOU formalises our relationship, so we can keep learning from each other’s experiences and share expertise for the benefit of both observatories.”
While the respective telescopes will observe opposite ends of the electromagnetic spectrum, there are exciting areas of scientific synergy between them. Both radio and gamma rays are a probe of the violent and variable Universe, including the study of active galactic nuclei, transient events such as gamma-ray bursts and fast radio bursts, accretion into compact objects and gravitational wave counterparts.
As the world’s largest radio telescope, SKA is one of several next-generation facilities targeting cosmic sources by detecting other wavelengths or messengers (such as neutrinos or gravitational waves) that will be complementary to CTA. Coordinated observations between such facilities can give a more complete picture of astronomical sources and phenomena, resulting in greatly enhanced scientific discoveries.