Both countries have been bidding to be the location of the $2.1-billion Square Kilometre Array, which would consist of 3,000 separate 50-foot radio dishes and numerous antennas.
Last month the SKA Site Advisory Committee concluded South Africa offered marginally better opportunities but since then the already-intense lobbying on both sides has increased, Nature reported Tuesday.
As a result the SKA management board has asked a scientific panel to investigate whether the telescope project, with its thousands of dishes and antennas, could be divided between the two proposed sites.
While politicians in Australia and South Africa say they oppose such a solution, John Womersley, head of the SKA board and chief executive of the UK Science and Technology Facilities Council, said a compromise should be considered.
"I have heard astronomers that I respect say that such a solution is possible," Womersley told Nature.
One solution would be to place the higher-frequency dishes on one continent and the lower-frequency antennas on the other, experts said.
"Normally when you have a giant dish, you cannot split it, but the SKA has many different components," said Heino Falcke, a radio astronomer at Radboud University in Nijmegen in the Netherlands.
While splitting the project is possible it would yield little scientific advantage, he said.
"It's a question of politics," he said.
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