From SKA via Mail&Guardian: “German institute’s R150m boost for MeerKAT telescope”

SKA Square Kilometer Array

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02 Dec 2014
Sarah Wild

The Max-Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Germany says it is pleased to be part of a “light-house” project for science in Africa.

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Germany’s Max-Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy is to commit R150-million to the construction and installation of radio receivers on South Africa’s MeerKAT radio telescope, Square Kilometre Array (SKA), it was announced on Tuesday.

The 64-dish MeerKAT, expected to be complete in 2017, will form part of the SKA, which will be the largest radio telescope in the world. The R2-billion MeerKAT is a South African-funded and designed telescope, with 75% of the components sourced locally, and will be the most sensitive radio telescope of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere.

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About five years of observing time on the telescope have already been allocated to more than 500 radio astronomers, 85 of them from Africa. Celestial objects produce radio waves, and by picking up on these signals radio astronomers are able to “see” what the universe looks like.

Radio telescopes have a number of receivers, each of which focuses on a different part of the radio wave spectrum.

The receivers to be funded by the institute will be primarily for “research on pulsars, [which are] rapidly spinning neutron stars which emit very regular radio pulses and can be used as highly accurate clocks to test extreme physics”, it said.

Investment a ‘vote of confidence’

“We consider MeerKAT to be an important undertaking as it is not only a pre-eminent astronomy project, but also a light-house project for science in Africa in general. The [Max-Plank Institute] is very pleased to enable close collaboration between its scientists and the South African community and looks forward to see MeerKAT’s first glimpse of the universe with the receivers of the [institute],” the institute’s president Martin Stratmann said.

Science and Technology Minister Naledi Pandor said: “This significant investment by a leading global research organisation of prestigious repute, home to several Nobel Prize winners, [is] an important vote of confidence, in South African science in general and the MeerKAT specifically.”

See the full article here.

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About SKA

The Square Kilometre Array will be the world’s largest and most sensitive radio telescope. The total collecting area will be approximately one square kilometre giving 50 times the sensitivity, and 10 000 times the survey speed, of the best current-day telescopes. The SKA will be built in Southern Africa and in Australia. Thousands of receptors will extend to distances of 3 000 km from the central regions. The SKA will address fundamental unanswered questions about our Universe including how the first stars and galaxies formed after the Big Bang, how dark energy is accelerating the expansion of the Universe, the role of magnetism in the cosmos, the nature of gravity, and the search for life beyond Earth. Construction of phase one of the SKA is scheduled to start in 2016. The SKA Organisation, with its headquarters at Jodrell Bank Observatory, near Manchester, UK, was established in December 2011 as a not-for-profit company in order to formalise relationships between the international partners and centralise the leadership of the project.