Read our COVID-19 research and news.

An artist's impression shows the proposed extension to SKA's current building at Jodrell Bank.

An artist's impression shows the proposed extension to SKA's current building at Jodrell Bank.

University of Manchester

World's biggest telescope will build its headquarters in the United Kingdom

The partners planning to build the Square Kilometre Array (SKA), which will be by far the world’s biggest radio telescope, have passed up the chance of headquartering the organization in the historic Castello Carrarese in the northern Italian city of Padua and will instead move into a new purpose-built HQ at Jodrell Bank near Manchester, U.K., SKA’s current interim home.

At a meeting at Jodrell Bank yesterday, the 11 partners—Australia, Canada, China, Germany, India, Italy, New Zealand, South Africa, Sweden, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom—weighed up bids from the United Kingdom and Italy and came down in favor of the former. “Now we’ll begin formal negotiations with the United Kingdom to establish the headquarters at Jodrell Bank,” says SKA Director General Philip Diamond.

Italy was something of an underdog in the competition to host the SKA HQ, which began last year with an invitation to bid. Castello Carrarese was used as a prison for much of the 20th century and is now being renovated. Padua is also home to an observatory of Italy’s National Institute of Astrophysics and a world-class university. Jodrell Bank is the site of Britain’s Lovell Telescope which, although built in 1957, remains the third largest steerable radio dish. The site is 30 kilometers from the university city of Manchester.

There was some surprise at a SKA council meeting in March when an advisory panel declared that both sites would fit the bill but favored the Italian bid. Diamond says the panel had only considered quantitative criteria such as the size of the building, Internet access, and the academic and local environments. “There were always going to be other factors,” he says, such as funding offered by the host country, rights and privileges offered to SKA as an international treaty organization, and tax advantages. “These were beyond the remit of the panel,” Diamond says.

The two countries were given more time to develop their bids, which were presented to the council yesterday at a special meeting. “Both offered substantial financial support,” Diamond says. The United Kingdom will be providing a total of £200 million to the project, including the HQ bid and its contribution to the phase I of construction from 2018 to 2023. “It’s a good package and was very attractive to members,” Diamond says. The Italian bid, he adds, was similar but put together differently.