Australian officials were unavailable for comment Saturday on a press report that South Africa is the favourite to host the world’s largest radio telescope.
Australian and South Africa are bidding for the 2-billion-dollar Square Kilometre Array (SKA) project, with the winner to be decided later this year.
The Sydney Morning Herald reported that an independent expert panel, the SKA Advisory Committee, was backing South Africa rather than Australia.
It said the panel had dealt Australia’s chances “a crippling blow” but that a final decision rested with a vote next month among China, Italy, Britain and the Netherlands.
Australia’s Science Minister Chris Evans visited China and Italy last month to press Australia’s case.
Twenty countries are expected to put up money for the SKA, an instrument powerful enough to answer some of the most fundamental questions about the evolution of the universe, including the formation of the first stars and galaxies.
The telescope will also be used to search for extraterrestrial life. Construction of the project is expected to begin in 2016 and be finished by 2024.
The Australian bid promises an area free from other radio interference -and almost free of people – nearly the size of Britain.
There would be 3,000 super-sensitive radio dishes arrayed starfish-fashion over 5,500 kilometres, half of them on a 5-square-kilometre patch of desert at Murchison, 600 kilometres north of Perth, and the rest stretching across the continent and over to New Zealand.
If South Africa gets the nod, the SKA core station would be in the Karoo desert, with remote stations in Namibia, Botswana, Ghana, Kenya, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique and Zambia.