The British astronomer Philip Diamond has been appointed the first permanent director-general of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) – the world's biggest and most sensitive radio telescope. Diamond, who has spent the last two years in Australia as head of astronomy and space science at the CSIRO, will be moving back to the UK in October to head-up the SKA Organisation, which is based at the Jodrell Bank Centre for Astrophysics near Manchester. Diamond had been director of Jodrell Bank before joining the CSIRO in 2010. He replaces the Dutch astronomer Michiel van Haarlem, who has been interim SKA boss since December 2011.

SKA will be a €1.5bn ground-based radio-astronomy telescope used to probe the early universe for clues on galaxy evolution, dark matter and dark energy by looking as far back into time as the first 100 million years after the Big Bang. SKA will consist of more than 3000 radio dishes that will be spread out across thousands of kilometres in both Australia and southern Africa. The dishes will have a total collecting area of more than a square kilometre – hence the facility's name.

Co-location surprise

The decision to co-locate the telescope on two different continents, which was announced in May 2012 after a six-year-long site-selection process, came as a surprise because the SKA Organisation had been expected to choose either Africa or Australasia to host the facility. SKA is currently in a "pre-construction" phase, where its engineers are testing out components that will make a fully fledged SKA possible. As well as the South Africa and Australia, other members of SKA include Canada, China, Italy, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Sweden and the UK.

"The SKA telescope is now moving from technology concept to the final, detailed design," says Diamond, who has been involved with the project since 2000. Construction of the first phase of SKA is expected to start in 2016 and last for three years. This will involve building 50 low-frequency antenna stations, 60 mid-frequency dishes in Australia and 190 mid-frequency dishes in South Africa. About 100 existing dishes in both countries will also become part of SKA. The second phase should begin in 2018, with SKA being complete by 2023.