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Biggest ever SKA Science Meeting kicks off with 950 participants

The 2021 SKA science meeting poster showing the Earth with astronomical data cubes depicted above it, with colourful science images within the cubesSKAO Global Headquarters, Jodrell Bank, UK, 15 March 2021 – The 2021 SKA Science Meeting “A precursor view of the SKA sky” is under way with more than 950 people taking part from across the SKA community. Over the next five days, delegates will hear about the latest results from SKA pathfinder instruments around the globe, covering the full range of SKA science.

It’s two years since the last SKA Science Meeting, and this time, the conference is organised entirely online. Over 400 abstracts have been submitted for consideration, reflecting the great enthusiasm and vibrancy of the research community. These abstracts were whittled down into a programme of 82 plenary talks and over 100 splinter talks.

“This is a special year already with the birth of SKAO, but to see such interest and excitement from the science community for this meeting – now our biggest ever meeting – is extremely heartening,” says SKAO Director-General Prof. Philip Diamond. “The sheer range of topics being covered this week is astounding, reflecting the exceptional research being carried out by our colleagues around the world, all of which is paving the way for science with the SKA.”

The plenary sessions are being run twice, 12 hours apart, in order to accommodate participants in all time zones. Posters are on display in a 2D virtual world with the aim to reproduce as much as possible the engagement and networking opportunities happening around poster sessions during in-person events. This environment allows participants to walk around a poster hall using an avatar, and interact with the presenter and other delegates by video and audio. The online events platform has chat boxes for interactions during talks, and separate Slack channels have been created so that conversations can continue independent of the conference timetable.

“This is the first fully virtual event from SKAO, which has allowed a much bigger participation, both in terms of the number of attendees and where they are in the world,” says SKAO Project Scientist Dr Anna Bonaldi, part of the Scientific Organisation Committee. “After a year in which we couldn’t travel much and interaction has been somewhat restricted, I’m looking forward to this opportunity to connect with our science community, which is so broad, to hear about all the work they have been doing.”

Registration for the event will remain open throughout the conference, costing £40 (or £20 for students) to cover the cost of the online events platform and the logistical and technical support.

“The journey towards early SKA science operations is paved with many opportunities and initiatives for the community, whether it’s through doing actual research with our pathfinder and precursor facilities, as exemplified this week, through the ongoing SKA data challenges or the participation in the SKA Science Working Groups and dedicated workshops,” Prof. Diamond adds. “These opportunities will help the community to share knowledge and expertise and develop new skills and tools, so that they’re ready for the arrival of the SKA in a few years.”