Canberra calls for stargazer-in-chief

By Julian Bajkowski

The federal government is officially on the hunt for a “visionary leader” to spearhead the Australian arm of a global radioastronomy probe into life, the universe and everything – better known as the Square Kilometre Array (SKA).

The Department of Industry, Innovation, Science, Research and Tertiary Education this week released official tender documents for the position of “Australian SKA Project Director” a highly sought-after scientific position created after Australia’s successful tilt at hosting the massive star-gazing facility.

The Square Kilometre Array (SKA) is described by scientists as a “next generation radio telescope that has a discovery potential 10,000 times greater than the best present-day instruments.”

It is intended to provide astronomers with “remarkable insights into the formation of the early universe, including the emergence of the first stars, galaxies and other structures,” according to its official description.

It will also scan for signs of extra-terrestrial life.

Australia’s participation in the project is regarded as coup for the nation’s scientists because it will put them at the cutting edge of designing powerful new computing and analysis facilities that, along with batteries of radio telescopes, will be needed to suck down and process faint stellar signals.

The international SKA is being built by a global consortium of institutions from around 20 countries that spans across the Antiopodes, Asia, Africa, the Americas and Europe.

The project cites five “key science drivers” that include research into the so-called “cradle of life” that will look into whether there are other “Earth-like planets” close to stars (other than the sun) and whether or not they can support intelligent life forms or life at all.

The project will also probe black holes and what happened after the big bang. As well as the evolution of galaxies, cosmology and dark matter, among other investigations.

However to make Australia’s foray into deep space and big science a reality, the project will first need to procure a life form with more earthly talents to deal with the mysteries of government and administrative processes.

According to the tender documents the SKA Project director will be required to “work with and advise Australian federal and state governments and the New Zealand Government to coordinate SKA activities” as well as preparing long-term strategic planning for the project’s construction and operation.

Any successful candidate will also be security vetted and required to possess finely-tuned political antennae to “ensure the Minister and Secretary of the Department are fully advised on matters associated with Australia’s participation in the SKA project.”

Presumably that means informing the Australian Government in the event alien life forms are found.

Bids for the position close on 8th February.

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