Unraveling the deepest secrets of our universe—including how it was formed—may sound like a task too ambitious for our lifetime, but this is what today’s cosmologists are planning to do, reports astrophysicist Pedro Ferreira in this month’s Prospect. The next generation of giant telescopes, dreamed up by a group of scientists from 19 different countries, will span continents and provide us with a new, complete map of the universe. With these in place, we’ll be able to tease out the nature of dark matter and dark energy itself, Ferriera says; cosmology’s holy grail.
But these bold plans throw up almost as many problems as they solve. The planned budget for SKA, the flagship project, already exceeds £1bn, and it will require unprecedented political co-operation. If based in South Africa, it will need Namibia, Botswana, Mozambique, Ghana, Kenya and the island of Mauritius to all get on board—and any party pulling out would destabilise the whole effort.
So is this a brave and exciting new idea, or an overly ambitious waste of money and resources? Let us know what you think.
Meanwhile, in the forthcoming June edition of Prospect, cosmologist Stephen Eales gives a nerve-wracking insider’s account of the launch of the Ariane 5 space rocket. Eales is leading two of the surveys the mission will carry out. If successful, it could answer fundamental questions about how our universe was created. The new Prospect is available in shops from 28th May.