SKA gives Africa a chance to shine

Carnarvon – The opportunity to host the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) has given South Africa and Africa as a whole a platform to prove to the world that the continent has what it takes to deliver the cutting-edge science project, says SKA Associate Director Professor Justin Jonas.

Speaking at a gala dinner in Carnarvon on Monday, ahead of President Jacob Zuma’s visit to the site of the SKA in the Northern Cape, Jonas expressed faith in the ability of South Africa and its partners on the continent to successfully pull off the venture.

“I am confident we are going to do that,” said Jonas.

In May this year, the SKA Organisation announced that South Africa and Australia were to share the hosting of the most advanced scientific project in the world. The two biggest components of the SKA will be built in Africa, while one will be built in Australia. About 70% of the facility will be built in Africa.

Both South Africa and Australia have been working on precursors to the SKA, the 64-dish MeerKAT telescope and the six-dish SKA Pathfinder (ASKAP) respectively.

According to Professor Jonas, the SKA will be a massive scientific infrastructure, and its development and construction will require participation by a wide range of industries to achieve its ambitious performance, schedule and cost targets.

Jonas is confident that by 2016, the project will be ready. More than 2 500 dishes are expected to be built.

Originally, the South African SKA Project had a budget to build a 20-dish array, which was known as KAT (Karoo Array Telescope). However, after a significant increase in funds from the Department of Science and Technology, the project was able to think beyond a 20-dish array.

South Africa, as co-host of the SKA, is expected to become a global centre for information technology, fundamental physics, astronomy and high-tech engineering. Top scientists and engineers throughout the world are expected to flock to Africa as a consequence thereof.

Dr Bernie Fanaroff, SKA Project Director, said he was confident that South Africa and its partners would make the SKA project a reality.

“We have an outstanding site for the SKA, as well as the people and the expertise to build and operate this mega-instrument. We are really going to make it happen,” said Fanaroff.

The MeerKAT Array, currently taking shape in South Africa’s Karoo region, is a world-class radio telescope designed to do ground-breaking science.

It will be the largest and most sensitive radio telescope in the southern hemisphere until the SKA is completed around 2024. Close to 100 young scientists and engineers are working on the MeerKAT project.

The MeerKAT will consist of 64 dishes of 13.5-m diameter each, with an offset Gregorian configuration.

The commissioning of the MeerKAT will take place in 2014 and 2015, with the array coming online for science operations in 2016. –

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