Northern Cape Premier welcomes SKA successes

The Northern Cape Premier, Dr Zamani Saul, welcomed successes made at the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) site in Carnarvon, which has developed into a powerful radio astronomy region.  Dr Saul, who was appointed Premier in May, visited the site for the first time yesterday, Tuesday, 14 October.


Dr Saul said the province had witnessed the site grow massively over the years.  With an investment by government of over R4 billion, the desert site now hosts over 70 radio telescopes.  The project has proven South Africa's ability to do world-class science and engineering.


The Premier hosted senior officials and experts from the nine SKA African partner countries, who were at the site to view the progress of the SKA and the African Very Long Baseline Interferometry Network (AVN) following their annual meeting.


The AVN project aims to establish a network of self-sufficient radio telescopes in Africa through the conversion of redundant telecommunications antennas into radio telescopes, "new-build" telescopes, or training facilities with training telescopes. This network will strengthen the science that the international VLBI community can do.


The site visit included a tour of the KAT-7 and the MeerKAT telescope arrays.  The MeerKAT is a 64-dish system which will be incorporated into Phase 1 of the SKA.  The completed MeerKAT array, launched last year, is to date the most sensitive telescope of its kind in the world, and is already performing important science and making significant discoveries. One notable scientific achievement was the production of the clearest view so far of the centre of the Milky Way.


The visitors also saw the Karoo Array Processor Building at the Losberg site complex.  A total of 170 km of buried fibre cables connect receptors to the building, processing very large amounts of data coming from the antennas.


"We are excited about the Northern Cape being able to contribute to the socio-economic development of this country, and the South African Radio Astronomy Observatory's (SARAO) efforts to grow human capital in radio astronomy," said the Premier.


So far, SARAO has invested heavily in the Northern Cape province – upgrading knowledge centres, creating jobs and providing deserving students with much-needed academic funding.


The focused investment in social development in the region will ensure that neighbouring communities can benefit fully from the far-reaching astronomy project, through better education and training, investment in small businesses, and increased job opportunities.


A total of about 1 000 students have received bursaries since 2006.  Of the recipients, about 130 have come from SKA African partner countries, and many of them have returned to initiate radio astronomy programmes at their home universities.


Acting Deputy Director-General: Research Development and Innovation, Dr Daniel Adams, described the 6th SKA African Partner Countries Meeting as successful.  The visit was an opportunity for the partners to see developments on site.


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