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SKA signs cooperation agreement with Cherenkov Telescope Array

Artists’ impressions of the SKA (left) and CTA (right) antennas which will operate in the radio and gamma-ray bands respectively.

SKA Global Headquarters, 29 January 2020 – The SKA Organisation (SKAO) will engage in closer collaboration with the Cherenkov Telescope Array Observatory (CTAO) 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.

SKAO and CTAO 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 the SKA, which will have radio telescopes in Australia and South Africa, CTA will also comprise two arrays on different continents observing gamma rays: one in Chile and one on La Palma in the Canary Islands. 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 SKA is becoming an intergovernmental organisation or IGO, while CTAO is becoming a European Research Infrastructure Consortium (ERIC).

“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.”

“In this age of multi-messenger astronomy, building alliances with observatories across the spectrum are 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.”

While the respective telescopes will observe opposite ends of the 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 flagship very high-energy gamma-ray observatory for the coming decades, CTA is one of several next-generation facilities targeting other wavelengths or cosmic messengers (detections that do not use photons, such as neutrinos or gravitational waves) which will be complementary to the SKA. Coordinated observations between such facilities can give a more complete picture of astronomical sources and phenomena, resulting in greatly enhanced scientific discoveries.