Tag: Astronomy

MeerKAT to get an optical companion

It can happen in the blink of an eye: millions of light years away a star collapses in on itself. From Earth, that cataclysmic event is only a sudden brightening of a point in the night sky, and on the ground, astronomers scramble to investigate it.

A new telescope, to be installed at South Africa’s Sutherland astronomy site in the next year, will catch these faint flickerings, among others, and help us understand more about what is happening in the universe.

But what makes it different from other optical telescopes observing these transient astronomical phenomena in Sutherland is that the MeerLicht (“more light” in Dutch) telescope will be linked directly to South Africa’s MeerKAT radio telescope, more than 200km away.

“This is a novel way of doing things – creating a real-time link with optical and radio telescopes,” says Patrick Woudt, head of astronomy at the University of Cape Town and South Africa’s principal investigator on the MeerLicht project.

 

For more, you can read the rest of the story here.

SKA one step closer to being another CERN

China this week joined a “select” group of countries that had entered into negotiations to create a treaty organisation to govern the Square Kilometre Array (SKA), the SKA Organisation said on Tuesday.

The SKA, which has a conservative price tag of €2-billion, will be the world’s largest radio telescope, comprising thousands of antennae throughout Australia and Africa with the core in South Africa’s Northern Cape. It will attempt to answer some of science and humanity’s most baffling questions, such as: Is there other life in the universe, how do galaxies form and what is dark matter?

With many countries – each trying to protect their investment and interests – and hundreds of scientists and engineers involved in the project, the project is looking to emulate other intergovernmental mega-science projects, such as the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN).

Established in 1954, CERN has more than 20 member states and, according to the organisation, has more than 10,000 visiting scientists from more than 113 countries going to the CERN laboratory for their research.

Speaking at the sidelines of the SKA Organisation board meeting in Cape Town in July, newly elected president Giovanni Bignami said: “We are moving forward into an intergovernmental organisation. It sounds bureaucratic, but for us it is fundamental. It gives us the legal authority of an international [science] organisation.”

China this week signed a letter of intent. “The signing of the letter of intent marks China’s intention to enter formal negotiations with other SKA member nations,” the SKA Organisation said. “The negotiations are aimed at developing an intergovernmental agreement to establish the SKA Observatory and defining their contribution to the construction of Phase 1 of the SKA telescope.”

The other countries that have signed letters of intent include Australia, Italy, the Netherlands, New Zealand, South Africa and the United Kingdom.

SKA Organisation director-general Phil Diamond said this was a “very positive step both for the project and for China, one that opens the prospect of industrial contracts for Chinese industry and observing time for the Chinese astronomical community”.

After having signed a letter of intent, the country has to go back to its Parliament to get it ratified.

The aim was to have a drafting of the SKA Intergovernmental Organisation’s treaty or convention completed by the end of next year, the organisation said. Construction of SKA Phase 1 is expected to begin in 2018.

Asked why South Africa should care about the bureaucratic plans around SKA governance, SKA South Africa associate director of science and engineering Justin Jonas said, on the sidelines of the board meeting in July: “It is in our interests that the board and the organisation [are] healthy, that the politics and finances [are] done properly. That is the only way that a good technical and scientific instrument will eventuate out of it.”

He said: “It is important that the board ensures there is a good environment [to attract] other members … a) it will get money in [to fund the construction of the SKA] and b) it will be the international instrument that we want it to be. Eventually, all countries in the world with astronomy interests will be in the SKA. This is the CERN of radioastronomy. Anyone who wants to be a serious astronomer will be part of the SKA.”

At that meeting, Bignami said that he was “absolutely” confident that the Organisation – which currently has 10 members (although only seven have so far signed letters of intent regarding the intergovernmental organisation) – would attract more members, and that they “expect to have 15 members by the end of next year”.

SKA Organisation gives smaller design the green light

The Square Kilometre Array (SKA) phase one will now move into its final pre-construction phase, smaller than initially anticipated but within the EUR650-million budget cap. Construction will begin in 2018.

The giant telescope, which will comprise thousands of antennae in Australia and Africa, with the core in South Africa, will be the largest scientific experiment in the world and will attempt to answer some of humanity’s most enigmatic questions, such as: Is there other life in the universe, how do galaxies form and what is dark matter?

However, it was initially envisioned that the telescope would be on one continent and, following the site decision in May 2012 when it was decided that the telescope would be split between South Africa and Australia, scientists and engineers have been working on a design that would accommodate telescopes in both countries, while still getting the maximum science out of the instrument.

As part of the bid to host the giant telescope, Australia and South Africa developed precursor telescopes, named Askap (Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder) and MeerKAT respectively. The second dish of the 64-dish MeerKAT was erected in February and the entire telescope is expected to come online in 2017.

For more, find the article — originally published in Mail & Guardian — here.

 

 

All systems so for SKA

African ministers of science and technology will return home this week with a plan to ready their countries for the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) and a network of radio telescopes on the continent.

The giant telescope, which will comprise thousands of antennae in Australia and Africa with the core in South Africa, will be the largest scientific experiment in the world and will attempt to answer some of humanity’s most enigmatic questions, such as: Is there other life in the universe? How do galaxies form? And what is dark matter?

South Africa will host the core of the world’s largest radio telescope in collaboration with Australia, and eight African partner countries – Botswana, Ghana, Kenya, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia and Zambia – will also host satellite stations.

Ministers and representatives of the partner countries met SKA South Africa and Science and Technology Minister Naledi Pandor in Pretoria on Wednesday and signed a draft memorandum of understanding outlining the “readiness strategy” and “plan of action” for hosting the SKA in their countries.

For more, find the article — originally published in Mail & Guardian — here.