PRETORIA, South Africa – Australia and South Africa will share hosting of a giant radio telescope made up of thousands of separate dishes and intended to help scientists figure out the make-up of the universe.

South Africa led an African consortium that included Botswana, Ghana, Kenya, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia and Zambia, and telescopes will be erected in all its partners. In South Africa, dishes will be added to a remote site in the arid Karoo desert where a smaller radio telescope project already is under way.

South Africa and Australia, which partnered with New Zealand in bidding for the project, had competed fiercely. South Africa claimed victory Friday, saying it got two of the project’s three major components.

South Africa’s science minister Naledi Pandor and scientists who had prepared the country’s bid celebrated with an Africa-shaped cake in South Africa’s capital Friday.

The Square Kilometer Array telescope will be 50 times more sensitive and scan the sky 10,000 times faster than any existing telescope. It requires huge open spaces with very few humans.

John Womersley, who chairs the consortium’s board, said the telescope will help scientists answer key questions: “Where do we come from? Where are we going? What is this universe we live in?”

“We don’t understand what 96 percent of our universe is made of,” he said.