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  • richardmitnick 3:06 pm on July 14, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , , SKA Africa,   

    From University of Oxford: “MeerKAT telescope unveiled in South Africa” 

    U Oxford bloc

    From University of Oxford

    SKA Meerkat telescope, South African design

    13 Jul 2018

    MeerKAT consists of 64 interconnected dishes, each 13.5m in diameter, that together form a single radio telescope. MeerKAT is an impressive South African achievement, assisted by a cohort of international scientists, including researchers from Oxford University and the Africa Oxford Initiative.

    MeerKAT will detect radio waves from the far reaches of the cosmos, allowing scientists to address some of the most puzzling questions and processes of the Universe. The device is able to better detect neutral hydrogen gas – the fundamental building block of the Universe, which is the building block of all the things that we see in the night sky, such as galaxies and stars. Insights from the telescope will support astrophysicists to understand how this gas becomes a star over time. MeerKAT will also be used to conduct tests in fundamental physics, including General Relativity and high-energy astrophysics through observations of pulsars and transients.

    The telescope was officially launched at a ceremony in Carnarvon in the Northern Cape, attended by David Mabuza the Deputy President of South Africa, and other science and technology ministers from the SA government, as well as representatives from the teams involved in building the telescope and those planning to lead the science based on the data it will deliver.

    Researchers from Oxford’s Department of Physics play leading roles in four of the largest surveys to be carried out with MeerKAT. The deep radio continuum survey (MIGHTEE) will study how galaxies evolve over the history of the universe, and THUNDERKAT aims to detect phenomena which go bang, such as when stars collide together, bursts of radiation when a star dies and accretion events that trigger black holes. The TRAPUM and MeerTIME projects aim at finding new pulsars and fast radio transients, and using them to test our understanding of extreme physics, respectively.

    Professor Matt Jarvis, Principal Investigator of the MIGHTEE survey and a Professor of Astrophysics at Oxford, said: Initial data from MeerKAT has shown that it will be one of the premier facilities for radio astronomy until the SKA, I’m sure that we will see some fantastic results over the next few years that will greatly enhance our understanding of how galaxies form and evolve.

    The telescope will be the largest of its kind, until the Square Kilometre Array (SKA). When completed, the SKA, will be 50 to 100 times more sensitive than any other radio telescope on Earth, and insights from MeerKAT will be combined with this data to give a comprehensive overview of the history of the universe. Dr Ian Heywood, a Hintze Fellow at Oxford’s Department of Astrophysics, has a leading role in the team, producing MeerKAT images, including some of the most impressive shots of the centre of our Galaxy ever generated, unveiled at the inauguration ceremony.

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    First Array Release 1.5 images taken with MeerKAT 32
    SKA SA Chief Scientist Dr Fernando Camilo and SKA SA Head of Science Commissioning Dr Sharmila Goedhart, released to the Minister of Science and Technology, Naledi Pandor, the recent AR1.5 results, images achieved by using various configurations of the 32 antennas currently operational in the Karoo.

    3
    MeerKAT produces First Light image
    The MeerKAT First Light image of the sky shows unambiguously that MeerKAT is already the best radio telescope of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere. Array Release 1 (AR1) provides 16 of an eventual 64 dishes integrated into a working telescope array. It is the first significant scientific milestone achieved by MeerKAT.

    5
    This Is The Clearest View of The Centre of The Milky Way to Date, And It Is Breathtaking. (SARAO). Science Alert

    Dr Aris Karastergiou, a Physics lecturer at Oxford, who co-leads the Thousand Pulsar Array survey in the MeerTIME project, added: ‘MeerKAT is a fantastic instrument for pulsar science and a stepping stone to the SKA – our work on it will essentially set the stage for the SKA and move us forward to a whole different era of radio astronomy. The telescope has been a long time in the making and we are incredibly excited we can now commence our science projects. It is a remarkable achievement by our South African colleagues in collaboration with a large international scientific community.

    The lessons learned from constructing MeerkAT are already feeding into the design specification of the SKA, allowing us to test new algorithms that will allow us to turn the raw data into exceptionally detailed maps and time-domain data products that will be used throughout the scientific community.

    Dr. Anne Makena, Program Coordinator at the Africa Oxford Initiative (AfOx), said: ‘The Africa Oxford Initiative (AfOx) celebrates the official unveiling of the MeerKAT Telescope in South Africa. We are proud to be associated with the academics involved in this groundbreaking work both in Oxford and our partner institutions in Africa. This incredible achievement reflects the power of research collaborations, which AfOx will continue to facilitate.’

    MeerKAT has been in the making for the better part of the last decade. It is expected to lead to groundbreaking results within the next 5 years, leading to the era of SKA science.

    See the full article here.


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    U Oxford campus

    Oxford is a collegiate university, consisting of the central University and colleges. The central University is composed of academic departments and research centres, administrative departments, libraries and museums. The 38 colleges are self-governing and financially independent institutions, which are related to the central University in a federal system. There are also six permanent private halls, which were founded by different Christian denominations and which still retain their Christian character.

    The different roles of the colleges and the University have evolved over time.

     
  • richardmitnick 3:21 pm on April 9, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , , SKA Africa, SKA MeerKAT radio telescope South Africa   

    From SKA: “In its first scientific publication, South Africa’s MeerKAT radio telescope observes a rare burst of activity from an exotic star” 


    SKA

    6 April 2018

    An article published today in The Astrophysical Journal presents the study of a magnetar – a star that is one of the most magnetic objects known in the universe – that awoke in 2017 from a 3-year slumber. Radio observations that could only be made with MeerKAT, an SKA precursor telescope being built in the Northern Cape province of South Africa, triggered observations with NASA X-ray telescopes orbiting the Earth. This first publication in the scientific literature of astronomical discoveries requiring the use of MeerKAT heralds its arrival into the stable of world-class research instruments.

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    The nearly completed MeerKAT array in the Karoo. Credit: SARAO

    NASA/Chandra Telescope

    NASA NuSTAR X-ray telescope

    “Well done to my colleagues in South Africa for this outstanding achievement”, declares Prof Phil Diamond, Director-General of the SKA Organisation leading the development of the Square Kilometre Array. “Building such telescopes is extremely difficult,” adds Diamond, “and this publication shows that MeerKAT is becoming ready for business. As one of the SKA precursor telescopes, this bodes well for the SKA. MeerKAT will eventually be integrated into Phase 1 of SKA-mid telescope bringing the total dishes at our disposal to 197, creating the most powerful radio telescope on the planet”.

    MeerKAT includes 64 dishes, each 13.5 metres in diameter, distributed across a span of 8 kilometres in a remote area of the Northern Cape in South Africa.

    “It’s been a long road getting to this point”, notes Dr Rob Adam, SARAO Managing Director. “It’s required the hard work and support of countless South Africans over more than a decade”. “We’re nearly there with MeerKAT”, continues Adam. “As this first article indicates, the telescope is now beginning to make scientific discoveries. As MeerKAT’s capabilities continue to grow, many more will follow”. “It’s tremendously gratifying to lead a team of such talented and passionate colleagues, who’ve been building in the Karoo a research instrument with few parallels anywhere”, concludes Adam.

    From SKA South Africa:
    Media release
    South Africa’s MeerKAT radio telescope observes a rare burst of activity from an exotic star, demonstrating outstanding capabilities as a new instrument for scientific exploration

    6 April 2018

    Lorenzo Raynard
    SKA SA Head: Communication and Stakeholder Relations
    Email: lraynard@ska.ac.za
    Mobile: +27 (0)71 454 0658

    An article published today in The Astrophysical Journal presents the study of a magnetar – a star that is one of the most magnetic objects known in the universe – that awoke in 2017 from a 3-year slumber. Radio observations that could only be made with MeerKAT, a telescope being built in the Northern Cape province of South Africa, triggered observations with NASA X-ray telescopes orbiting the Earth. This first publication in the scientific literature of astronomical discoveries requiring the use of MeerKAT heralds its arrival into the stable of world-class research instruments.

    Dr Fernando Camilo, Chief Scientist at the South African Radio Astronomy Observatory (SARAO, which includes the Square Kilometre Array South Africa project), describes the setting one year ago: “On 26 April 2017, while monitoring the long-dormant magnetar with the CSIRO Parkes Radio Telescope in Australia, one of our colleagues noticed that it was emitting bright radio pulses every 4 seconds”. A few days later Parkes underwent a planned month-long maintenance shutdown. Although MeerKAT was still under construction, with no more than 16 of its eventual 64 radio dishes available, the commissioning team started regular monitoring of the star 30,000 light years from Earth. According to Camilo, “the MeerKAT observations proved critical to make sense of the few X-ray photons we captured with NASA’s orbiting telescopes – for the first time X-ray pulses have been detected from this star, every 4 seconds. Put together, the observations reported today help us to develop a better picture of the behaviour of matter in unbelievably extreme physical conditions, completely unlike any that can be experienced on Earth”.

    The article, entitled Revival of the magnetar PSR J1622−4950: observations with MeerKAT, Parkes, XMM-Newton, Swift, Chandra, and NuSTAR, has 208 authors. A handful of these are astronomers specialising in the study of magnetars and related stars. The vast majority belong to the so-called MeerKAT Builders List: hundreds of engineers and scientists overwhelmingly from the SKA South Africa project and commercial enterprises in South Africa that over more than a decade have been developing and building MeerKAT – a project of the South African Department of Science and Technology, in which 75% of the overall construction budget has been spent in South Africa.

    “MeerKAT is an enormously complex machine”, says Thomas Abbott, MeerKAT Programme Manager. In order to make the exquisitely sensitive images of the radio sky that will allow scientists to better understand how galaxies like the Milky Way have formed and evolved over the history of the universe, the 64 MeerKAT antennas generate data at enormous rates. The challenges involved in dealing with so much data require clever solutions to a variety of problems at the cutting edge of technology. According to Abbott, “we have a team of the brightest engineers and scientists in South Africa and the world working on the project, because the problems that we need to solve are extremely challenging, and attract the best”.

    Some of these people were in high school when the project started. “We have implemented a human capital development programme focused on producing the South African engineers and scientists with the skills required to design, build, and use the telescope”, relates Kim de Boer, Head of the SARAO Human Capital Development Programme. Many of these young people are now employed at SARAO, at South African universities, and in the broader knowledge economy.

    “The first scientific publication based on MeerKAT data is a wonderful milestone”, says Prof Roy Maartens, SKA SA Research Chair at the University of the Western Cape. “Although MeerKAT isn’t yet complete, it’s now clearly a functioning telescope. We’ve been training a new generation of researchers, and soon our young scientists will be using what promises to be a remarkable discovery machine”.

    Early in 2018, SARAO received the first Early Science MeerKAT observing proposals from South African researchers. Later in the year, already approved Large Survey Projects that will use two-thirds of the available observing time over 5 years will start their investigations with the full array of MeerKAT antennas. These 64 dishes, each 13.5 metres in diameter, are distributed across a span of 8 kilometres in a remote area of the Northern Cape. The 64 MeerKAT antennas are standing tall in the Karoo. The official unveiling of the telescope is being planned for the second half of 2018.

    “Well done to my colleagues in South Africa for this outstanding achievement”, declares Prof Phil Diamond, Director-General of the SKA Organisation leading the development of the Square Kilometre Array. “Building such telescopes is extremely difficult,” adds Diamond, “and this publication shows that MeerKAT is becoming ready for business. As one of the SKA precursor telescopes, this bodes well for the SKA. MeerKAT will eventually be integrated into Phase 1 of SKA-mid telescope bringing the total dishes at our disposal to 197, creating the most powerful radio telescope on the planet”.

    “It’s been a long road getting to this point”, notes Dr Rob Adam, SARAO Managing Director. “It’s required the hard work and support of countless South Africans over more than a decade”. “We’re nearly there with MeerKAT”, continues Adam. “As this first article indicates, the telescope is now beginning to make scientific discoveries. As MeerKAT’s capabilities continue to grow, many more will follow”. “It’s tremendously gratifying to lead a team of such talented and passionate colleagues, who’ve been building in the Karoo a research instrument with few parallels anywhere”, concludes Adam.

    About neutron stars, pulsars, and magnetars

    Neutron stars are the collapsed remnants of giant stars that in their prime contained approximately 10 times the mass of our Sun. When they run out of fuel, after converting their hydrogen into heavier elements through a chain of nuclear fusion reactions, the outer layers of such stars are ejected in one of the most violent events in the universe, a supernova explosion. A dense core is left, made up mostly of neutrons. Such neutron stars are immensely dense – the size of a city but more massive than the Sun. They also spin rapidly, from once every few seconds up to several hundred times per second and have magnetic fields one trillion times stronger than the Earth’s. As they spin, beams of radio waves, and sometimes X-rays, focused along their magnetic fields, stream out of the neutron star into space. Given a fortuitous alignment, on Earth with the appropriate telescopes one can detect bursts of electromagnetic waves with every turn of the star, in lighthouse-like fashion. These neutron stars are therefore sometimes also known as pulsars, as they appear to pulsate, although in fact they are rotating. About 3000 pulsars are known in our Milky Way galaxy, a few percent of the total population thought to exist. By comparison, our galaxy contains more than 100 billion ordinary stars.

    Magnetars are a very rare subset of neutron stars/pulsars. Only two dozen are known in our galaxy. Their magnetic fields are up to 1000 times stronger than those of ordinary pulsars. The energy associated with such fields is so large that it almost breaks the star apart, and they tend to be unstable, displaying great variability in their physical properties and electromagnetic emission. All magnetars are known to emit X-rays, but only four are known to sometimes also emit radio waves. One of these is the subject of the first scientific publication based on MeerKAT data.

    See the full Press Release here .

    See the full article here .

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    SKA ASKAP Pathefinder Telescope

    SKA Meerkat telescope, 90 km outside the small Northern Cape town of Carnarvon, SA


    SKA Meerkat Telescope

    Murchison Widefield Array,SKA Murchison Widefield Array, Boolardy station in outback Western Australia, at the Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory (MRO)


    SKA Murchison Wide Field Array
    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.

    The Square Kilometre Array (SKA) project is an international effort to build the world’s largest radio telescope, led by SKA Organisation. The SKA will conduct transformational science to improve our understanding of the Universe and the laws of fundamental physics, monitoring the sky in unprecedented detail and mapping it hundreds of times faster than any current facility.

    Already supported by 10 member countries – Australia, Canada, China, India, Italy, New Zealand, South Africa, Sweden, The Netherlands and the United Kingdom – SKA Organisation has brought together some of the world’s finest scientists, engineers and policy makers and more than 100 companies and research institutions across 20 countries in the design and development of the telescope. Construction of the SKA is set to start in 2018, with early science observations in 2020.

     
  • richardmitnick 12:34 pm on November 10, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , In the next few decades pulsars and black holes will be some of most important focal points in astrophysics research, KAT-7 and MeerKAT telescopes, Looking ahead to the Square Kilometer Array, Physicists will either pin down more accurate descriptions of the Strong Equivalence Principle (SEP) and alternative theories of gravity or may find they need to scrap these theories entirely, Pulsar emissions and gravitational waves have been telling us interesting things about the universe, , , SKA Africa, , The SKA will be far more powerful and versatile than any telescopes before it, The Square Kilometer Array (SKA) an international partnership mainly supported by 10 countries is an interconnected web of telescopes being built in South Africa Western Australia and a number of Afri   

    From astronomy.com: “Looking ahead to the Square Kilometer Array” 

    Astronomy magazine

    astronomy.com

    November 06, 2017
    Tyler Krueger

    This web of telescopes will help astronomers unlock the mystery behind black holes, pulsars, and more.

    SKA Square Kilometer Array

    1
    Composite image bringing together the two SKA sites under a shared sky. Pictured here are some of the SKA precursor telescopes, South Africa’s KAT-7 and MeerKAT telescopes on the left and Australia’s ASKAP telescope on the right. SKA Organisation

    In the next few decades, pulsars and black holes will be some of most important focal points in astrophysics research. Researchers are working to build extremely powerful telescopes that aim to study pulsars and, if they are lucky, supermassive black holes found at the center of galaxies. The Square Kilometer Array (SKA), an international partnership mainly supported by 10 countries, is an interconnected web of telescopes being built in South Africa, Western Australia, and a number of African countries that will study these objects to test theories of gravity and the theory of general relativity.

    Pulsar emissions and gravitational waves have been telling us interesting things about the universe, and upcoming research is likely to bring improved and exciting insights. The SKA will be far more powerful and versatile than any telescopes before it, allowing for a diverse range of in-depth research.

    “What excites me is the finding of the unexpected,” SKA Science Director Robert Braun said. “You’ll be looking for one phenomenon, and you come away finding something completely unpredicted.”

    2
    Aerial view of the SKA dishes and MeerKAT dishes in South Africa. SKA Organisation

    The Relationship Between Pulsars and Gravitational Waves

    Pulsars are excellent timekeepers. As pulsars rotate on their axis, for a few milliseconds the radio waves they emit are shot directly at Earth, where researchers can record and analyze them. They rotate very consistently, so researchers can use them as precise clocks for experiments.

    The consistency of pulsars also makes them a reliable way to study gravitational waves. Gravitational waves warp space-time so that anything in their path is warped itself. If a gravitational wave from a pair of supermassive black holes orbiting each other were to propagate through the space between a pulsar and our planet, researchers would be able to detect a slight delay in the radio signal received, as space would be physically distorted. The SKA telescope will be able to use pulsars to detect gravitational waves from distant supermassive black holes binaries in more precise ways that current telescopes.

    According to Alberto Sesana, a research fellow at the University of Birmingham, a great challenge to searching for evidence of gravitational waves in pulsar radio emissions is separating the signals from the plethora of other sources of noise in the universe.

    “When it comes to gravitational wave detection, the hardest part is that we do not understand the intrinsic noise of pulsars very well.” Sesana said. “This is a problem, because detecting a signal means to single it out from noise and if you don’t know what your noise does, it becomes difficult to identify the signal.”

    It’s a bit like being at a concert with your eyes closed and trying to decipher which speaker is playing the bass guitar.

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    Close-up of the SKA’s low frequency aperture arrays and ASKAP dishes in Australia. SKA Organisation

    The telescopes currently in use are not sensitive enough to study these variations closely enough. The SKA telescope will provide more powerful instruments capable of higher precision than those before it and will help researchers study celestial bodies more accurately.

    Tests of General Relativity

    Until the first gravitational wave signal detected by LIGO, pairings of neutron stars were the best test of general relativity. According to the theory, the emission of gravitational waves as the stars rotate around each other causes the distance between the two neutron stars to shrink. This in turn shrinks the amount of time it takes the stars to orbit each other, and affects the timing of the pulsars. Studying these timing changes closely will allow researchers to pinpoint the rate of shrinkage in a concrete manner and compare it to what the theory of general relativity says will happen.

    PSR J0737-3039, a system of two neutron star pulsars orbiting each other, has so far been the best test of this principle. The observed rates of shrinking have agreed with (to within half of a percent) general relativity, but in typical science fashion, this is still not enough evidence to confirm existing theories.

    In future studies, SKA telescopes plan to find more binary systems like this, which will help build a stronger body of evidence for or against our current theory of general relativity.

    “With better telescopes and algorithms, we can find more pulsars, and among them, more exotic objects, like double neutron star binaries, which will help constrain general relativity, and pulsar – white dwarf binaries, which will help constrain alternative theories of gravity,” said Delphine Perrodin, a researcher at the Italian National Institute for Astrophysics (INAF).

    Alternative Theories of Gravity

    Pulsar-white dwarf systems can similarly test alternative theories of gravity. PSR J0337+1715 is a great example of this type of system. For the visual learners, here’s a short video describing this system:

    This is an important area of study because general relativity is not yet a completely sound theory. The theories of general relativity and quantum mechanics have been studied extensively, but physicists still cannot reconcile them with each other.

    The PSR J0337+1715 system has interested physicists since its discovery in 2007. Two white dwarfs orbit the pulsar – one very closely and one from far away. This system is fascinating because the outer white dwarf’s gravitational field accelerates the orbits of the inner pair at a much faster rate than predicted by current theories. With more sensitive telescopes, researchers aim to find more systems like this to study to more fully understand, among other things, the Strong Equivalence Principle (SEP). SEP states that the laws of gravity are not affected by velocity and location, but the way the PSR J0337+1715 system behaves, it appears that there is something beyond our understanding to be discovered. The SKA telescope will be able to more precisely study this supposed violation.

    Whatever conclusions come from it, physicists will either pin down more accurate descriptions of the SEP and alternative theories of gravity, or may find they need to scrap these theories entirely.

    The Future of Astrophysics

    SKA will practically revolutionize the study of astrophysics, and will even contribute to other fields of physics. With such a wide range of capability, SKA will advance theories of dark matter and dark energy, learn about galaxy formation in the early and local universe, and hopefully accurately locate the first recognized pair of supermassive black holes. Researchers hope to use the SKA to formulate a “movie” of the early universe’s progression to its current state by studying hydrogen recombination after the Big Bang.

    “If we can overcome the instrumental challenges, we’ll be able to see that ‘cosmic dawn,’ the first moments of time in which the universe starts to become ionized and watch as that ionization progresses,” Braun said.

    According to Sesana, the holy grail of this research would be to find interesting objects that are closer and easier to study.

    “Another ideal outcome will be to find, possibly – and this would be a dream – a pulsar closely orbiting the supermassive black hole in the Milky Way center. This will allow the testing of general relativity like in the pulsar-black hole case, but to an even greater precision.”

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    SKA Organisation

    With regard to the recent announcement of gravitational waves, gamma ways, and more from a pair of merging neutron stars, the SKA “will work in tandem with multi-messenger facilities to both alert other facilities to discoveries made by the SKA, and to react to discoveries made by LIGO, Virgo, etc.,” said a representative from the project. “The SKA’s reaction time will be about 30 seconds, meaning we can jump onto signals as soon as they are discovered by the electromagnetic, gravitational wave or neutrino signals. Additionally, the SKA will provide a deluge of new and exciting electromagnetic transient discoveries, which it will broadcast to other facilities for these to complement the observations, the aim being to achieve a full multi-messenger understanding of the new discovery space that SKA will open.”

    Exciting Discoveries Ahead

    The potential to discover groundbreaking phenomena in the universe is awe-inspiring to say the least. Some questions will be answered, but many more questions will be raised.

    4
    Artist’s composition of the entire SKA1 array, with SKA dishes and MeerKAT dishes in Africa and low frequency aperture arrays and ASKAP dishes in Australia. SKA Organisation

    “Nature is so inventive,” Braun said. “If you look with new capabilities, you find the most amazing, unexpected things that you never could have predicted. Nature just has so much more imagination than people do.”

    The overarching SKA project hopes to see an intergovernmental treaty signed in 2018, and should begin its five-year construction in 2019 or 2020. Braun says that the South African MeerKAT radio telescope, which is a precursor project that will be integrated into the SKA, is nearing completion and expects to be functioning in April 2018. Other first-class science precursor facilities located such as ASKAP and the MWA radio telescopes in Australia are already paving the way for SKA, as well as a number of smaller facilities around the world

    The wait seems long, but for astronomy fans, it’s going to be well worth it.

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 1:49 pm on August 1, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , , SKA Africa,   

    From Symmetry: “Tuning in for science” 

    Symmetry Mag

    Symmetry

    08/01/17
    By Mike Perricone

    1
    Square Kilometer Array

    The sprawling Square Kilometer Array radio telescope hunts signals from one of the quietest places on earth.

    SKA South Africa

    When you think of radios, you probably think of noise. But the primary requirement for building the world’s largest radio telescope is keeping things almost perfectly quiet.

    Radio signals are constantly streaming to Earth from a variety of sources in outer space. Radio telescopes are powerful instruments that can peer into the cosmos—through clouds and dust—to identify those signals, picking them up like a signal from a radio station. To do it, they need to be relatively free from interference emitted by cell phones, TVs, radios and their kin.

    NRAO/Karl V Jansky VLA, on the Plains of San Agustin fifty miles west of Socorro, NM, USA

    That’s one reason the Square Kilometer Array is under construction in the Great Karoo, 400,000 square kilometers of arid, sparsely populated South African plain, along with a component in the Outback of Western Australia. The Great Karoo is also a prime location because of its high altitude—radio waves can be absorbed by atmospheric moisture at lower altitudes. SKA currently covers some 1320 square kilometers of the landscape.

    Even in the Great Karoo, scientists need careful filtering of environmental noise. Effects from different levels of radio frequency interference (RFI) can range from “blinding” to actually damaging the instruments. Through South Africa’s Astronomy Geographic Advantage Act, SKA is working toward “radio protection,” which would dedicate segments of the bandwidth for radio astronomy while accommodating other private and commercial RF service requirements in the region.

    “Interference affects observational data and makes it hard and expensive to remove or filter out the introduced noise,” says Bernard Duah Asabere, Chief Scientist of the Ghana team of the African Very Long Baseline Interferometry Network (African VLBI Network, or AVN), one of the SKA collaboration groups in eight other African nations participating in the project.

    2
    The Ghanaian and South African governments on Thursday announced the combination of ‘first light’ science observations, which confirm the successful conversion of the Ghana communications antenna from a redundant telecoms instrument into a functioning Very Long Baseline Interferometry (VLBI) radio telescope.

    Ghana is the first partner country of the African Very Large Baseline Interferometer (VLBI) Network (AVN) to complete the conversion of a communications antenna into a functioning radio telescope.

    SKA “will tackle some of the fundamental questions of our time, ranging from the birth of the universe to the origins of life,” says SKA Director-General Philip Diamond. Among the targets: dark energy, Einstein’s theory of gravity and gravitational waves, and the prevalence of the molecular building blocks of life across the cosmos.

    SKA-South Africa can detect radio spectrum frequencies from 350 megahertz to 14 gigahertz. Its partner Australian component will observe the lower-frequency scale, from 50 to 350 megahertz. Visible light, for comparison, has frequencies ranging from 400 to 800 million megahertz. SKA scientists will process radiofrequency waves to form a picture of their source.

    A precursor instrument to SKA called MeerKat (named for the squirrel-sized critters indigenous to the area), is under construction in the Karoo.

    SKA Meerkat telescope, 90 km outside the small Northern Cape town of Carnarvon, SA

    This array of 16 dishes in South Africa achieved first light on June 19, 2016. MeerKAT focused on 0.01 percent of the sky for 7.5 hours and saw 1300 galaxies—nearly double the number previously known in that segment of the cosmos.

    Since then, MeerKAT met another milestone with 32 integrated antennas. MeerKat will also reach its full array of 64 dishes early next year, making it one of the world’s premier radio telescopes. MeerKAT will eventually be integrated into SKA Phase 1, where an additional 133 dishes will be built. That will bring the total number of antennas for SKA Phase I in South Africa to 197 by 2023. So far, 32 dishes are fully integrated and are being commissioned for science operations.

    On completion of SKA 2 by 2030, the detection area of the receiver dishes will exceed 1 square kilometer, or about 11,000 square feet. Its huge size will make it 50 times more sensitive than any other radio telescope. It is expected to operate for 50 years.

    SKA is managed by a 10-nation consortium, including the UK, China, India and Australia as well as South Africa, and receives support from another 10 countries, including the US. The project is headquartered at Jodrell Bank Observatory in the UK.

    The full SKA will use radio dishes across Africa and Australia, and collaboration members say it will have a farther reach and more detailed images than any existing radio telescope.

    Murchison Widefield Array,SKA Murchison Widefield Array, Boolardy station in outback Western Australia, at the Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory (MRO)

    SKA/ASKAP radio telescope at the Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory (MRO) in Mid West region of Western Australia

    In preparation for the SKA, South Africa and its partner countries developed AVN to establish a network of radiotelescopes across the African continent. One of its projects is the refurbishing of redundant 30-meter-class antennas, or building new ones across the partner countries, to operate as networked radio telescopes.

    4
    Hartebeesthoek Radio Astronomy Observatory in Gauteng.

    The first project of its kind is the AVN Ghana project, where an idle 32-meter diameter dish has been refurbished and revamped with a dual receiver system at 5 and 6.7 gigahertz central frequencies for use as a radio telescope. The dish was previously owned and operated by the government and the company Vodafone Ghana as a telecommunications facility. Now it will explore celestial objects such as extragalactic nebulae, pulsars and other RF sources in space, such as molecular clouds, called masers.

    Asabere’s group will be able to tap into areas of SKA’s enormous database (several supercomputers’ worth) over the Internet. So will groups in Botswana, Kenya, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia and Zambia. SKA is also offering extensive outreach in participating countries and has already awarded 931 scholarships, fellowships and grants.

    Other efforts in Ghana include introducing astronomy in the school curricula, training students in astronomy and related technologies, doing outreach in schools and universities, receiving visiting students at the telescope site and hosting programs such as the West African International Summer School for Young Astronomers taking place this week.

    Asabere, who achieved his advanced degrees in Sweden (Chalmers University of Technology) and South Africa (University of Johannesburg), would like to see more students trained in Ghana, and would like get more researchers on board. He also hopes for the construction of the needed infrastructure, more local and foreign partnerships and strong governmental backing.

    “I would like the opportunity to practice my profession on my own soil,” he says.

    That day might not be far beyond the horizon. The Leverhulme-Royal Society Trust and Newton Fund in the UK are co-funding extensive human capital development programs in the SKA-AVN partner countries. A seven-member Ghanaian team, for example, has undergone training in South Africa and has been instructed in all aspects of the project, including the operation of the telescope.

    Several PhD students and one MSc student from Ghana have received SKA-SA grants to pursue further education in astronomy and engineering. The Royal Society has awarded funding in collaboration with Leeds University to train two PhDs and 60 young aspiring scientists in the field of astrophysics.

    Based on the success of the Leverhulme-Royal Society program, a joint UK-South Africa Newton Fund intervention (DARA—the Development in Africa with Radio Astronomy) has since been initiated in other partner countries to grow high technology skills that could lead to broader economic development in Africa.

    As SKA seeks answers to complex questions over the next five decades, there should be plenty of opportunities for science throughout the Southern Hemisphere. Though it lives in one of the quietest places, SKA hopes to be heard loud and clear.

    See the full article here .

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    Symmetry is a joint Fermilab/SLAC publication.


     
  • richardmitnick 4:43 pm on July 5, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , , SKA Africa   

    From SKA: “Ghana and South Africa celebrate first light of SKA-linked African network of radio telescopes” 

    SKA Square Kilometer Array

    SKA

    5 July 2017
    No writer credit found

    The Ministries of Ghana and South Africa announced the combination of ‘first light’ science observations which confirm the successful conversion of a Ghanaian communications antenna from a redundant telecoms instrument into a functioning Very Long Baseline Interferometry (VLBI) radio telescope.

    SKA The 32m Kutunse antenna at the Ghana Radio Astronomy Observatory.

    Ghana is the first partner country of the African Very Large Baseline Interferometer (VLBI) Network (AVN) to complete the conversion of a communications antenna into a functioning radio telescope. The 32-metre converted telecommunications antenna at the Ghana Intelsat Satellite Earth Station at Kutunse will be integrated into the African VLBI Network (AVN) in preparation for the second phase construction of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) across the African continent.

    Nine African partner countries are members of the AVN, including Botswana, Ghana, Kenya, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, and Zambia.

    As an SKA Africa partner country, Ghana welcomed and collaborated with the SKA South Africa (SKA SA)/HartRAO (Hartebeesthoek Radio Astronomical Observatory) group to harness the radio astronomy potential of the redundant satellite communication antenna at Kutunse.

    Hartebeesthoek Radio Astronomy Observatory, located west of Johannesburg South Africa

    A team of scientists and engineers from SKA SA/HartRAO and the Ghana Space Science and Technology Institute (GSSTI) which is under the Ghanaian Ministry of Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation (MESTI), has been working since 2011 on the astronomy instrument upgrade to make it radio-astronomy ready.

    “A vital part of the effort towards building SKA on the African Continent over the next decade is to develop the skills, regulations and institutional capacity needed in SKA partner countries to optimise African participation in the SKA,” says the South African Minister of Science and Technology, Mrs Naledi Pandor. The AVN programme is aimed at transferring skills and knowledge in African partner countries to build, maintain, operate and use radio telescopes. Minister Pandor continued by saying: “It will bring new science opportunities to Africa on a relatively short time scale and develop radio astronomy science communities in SKA partner countries.”

    See the full article here .

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    SKA Square Kilometer Array


    SKA ASKAP Pathefinder Telescope

    SKA Meerkat telescope, 90 km outside the small Northern Cape town of Carnarvon, SA


    SKA Meerkat Telescope

    Murchison Widefield Array,SKA Murchison Widefield Array, Boolardy station in outback Western Australia, at the Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory (MRO)


    SKA Murchison Wide Field Array

    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.

    The Square Kilometre Array (SKA) project is an international effort to build the world’s largest radio telescope, led by SKA Organisation. The SKA will conduct transformational science to improve our understanding of the Universe and the laws of fundamental physics, monitoring the sky in unprecedented detail and mapping it hundreds of times faster than any current facility.

    Already supported by 10 member countries – Australia, Canada, China, India, Italy, New Zealand, South Africa, Sweden, The Netherlands and the United Kingdom – SKA Organisation has brought together some of the world’s finest scientists, engineers and policy makers and more than 100 companies and research institutions across 20 countries in the design and development of the telescope. Construction of the SKA is set to start in 2018, with early science observations in 2020.

     
  • richardmitnick 2:47 pm on May 14, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , European Very Long Baseline Interferometry (VLBI) Network, , Kuntunse Ghana telescope, , SKA Africa   

    From Nature: “Ghana telescope heralds first pan-African array” 

    Nature Mag
    Nature

    09 May 2017
    Sarah Wild

    By converting a defunct communications dish, astronomers are breaking ground on Earth and beyond.

    1
    An old communications dish in Ghana is taking on a new role as a radio telescope. SKA SA

    In a milestone for African astronomy, engineers have converted an old telecommunications dish in Ghana into the continent’s first functioning radio telescope outside South Africa.

    The telescope, in Kuntunse near Accra, is the first of an array of such instruments expected to be built across Africa over the next five years, and forms part of long-term plans to develop the skills of astronomers on the continent. It made its first observations this year and will be formally opened later in 2017.

    “It’s a moment of pride and joy that we have reached this far,” says project manager T. L. Venkatasubramani (known as VenKAT). He says that science operations should begin next year.

    Once up and running, the Ghana telescope could be incorporated into the European Very Long Baseline Interferometry (VLBI) Network — a cluster of far-apart radio telescopes that together act as one large instrument.

    European VLBI

    But astronomers also want to use it in a separate African VLBI Network (AVN).

    SKA South Africa

    For that, plans are under way to convert telecommunications dishes in Zambia, Madagascar and Kenya by mid-2019. The arrival of undersea cables around Africa’s coast in the past decade has rendered these dishes obsolete for their original purpose. New telescopes could also be built in four other African nations by mid-2022.

    The AVN will develop the capacity for astronomy in countries that have never had a radio telescope, says Huib Jan van Langevelde, director of the Joint Institute for VLBI in Europe, based in Dwingeloo, the Netherlands, who has been involved in training and testing for the African network. But it will also contribute useful science, he notes.

    The Ghana telescope has begun observing methanol masers — radio emissions that can arise from a number of celestial phenomena — and pulsars. The AVN will fill in geographic gaps in the global VLBI, improving imaging by increasing the range of distances and possible angles between the telescopes in the network. The more telescopes there are in a VLBI network, the more detail astronomers can see.

    “If you look at the current VLBI network, we definitely do need antennas filling up the centre of Africa,” says James Chibueze, a VLBI scientist and AVN operator who works with SKA South Africa in Cape Town, which is building part of the world’s largest radio telescope, the Square Kilometre Array.

    Tony Beasley, director of the US National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Charlottesville, Virginia, says the AVN is a “fantastic” initiative for the Southern Hemisphere, where the VLBI at present shares use of an array in Australia.

    “The AVN would be a full-time array, would do a lot more science and is going to increase by an order of magnitude the amount of VLBI time available, and the southern skies thing is unique. We have lots of arrays in the Northern Hemisphere,” he says.

    The AVN would also benefit from the technical advances made for the SKA and South Africa’s radio-astronomy ambitions, says Beasley.

    Tricky conversion

    The AVN was the brain child of Michael Gaylard, a former director of South Africa’s Hartebeeshoek Radio Astronomy Observatory who died in 2014.

    3
    Hartebeeshoek Radio Astronomy Observatory, located near Johannesburg in South Africa.

    During two years of repairs to the observatory’s telescope, Gaylard used Google Maps to scour the continent for old telecommunications dishes. When he saw the Kuntunse dish, he realized that it — and others like it — could be converted for astronomy.

    The switch has been difficult, says Chibueze. New telescopes are designed and built to set specifications, but during work on the Kuntunse dish, engineers and scientists have had to adapt their plans. And there have been issues with the stability of electrical power and Internet supply.

    The conversion has been in large part funded by South Africa, whose African Renaissance and International Co-Operation Fund and department of science and technology have contributed 122 million rand (US$9 million) to the project. From South Africa’s point of view, the AVN would help to prepare the continent for the SKA: many hundreds of dishes, and even more antennas, are set to be built in Australia and South Africa. By the late 2020s, the SKA project also plans to construct other stations — separate from the AVN — in eight other African nations.

    Later this year, the AVN project and South Africa’s SKA project office will be amalgamated into the South African Radio Astronomy Observatory, a unit of the National Research Foundation. The plan, however, is that Ghana and other African nations will ultimately own and operate their AVN telescopes.

    South Africa hasn’t said whether it will fund further conversions. VenKAT says that it needs cost-sharing commitments from other African nations. “We must ensure the governance set-up is in place before we go in for the engineering,” he says. “It’s not just a South African do-and-deliver, but a joint programme.”

    See the full article here .

    [I cannot refrain from commenting that there is all sorts of radio astronomy planning going on all over the world as our NSF begins to defund efforts here with GBO, Arecibo, etc., and the EU has just committed €10 Billion (or is it million, it does not matter, it is the thought that counts) for radio astronomy. It is just like when we defunded the Superconducting Super Collider in Waxahachie, TX, USA and handed off HEP, and thus Higgs, to CERN in Europe.]

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    Nature is a weekly international journal publishing the finest peer-reviewed research in all fields of science and technology on the basis of its originality, importance, interdisciplinary interest, timeliness, accessibility, elegance and surprising conclusions. Nature also provides rapid, authoritative, insightful and arresting news and interpretation of topical and coming trends affecting science, scientists and the wider public.

     
  • richardmitnick 10:18 am on March 6, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Hydrogen Epoch of Reionization Array (HERA) at the Karoo desert site South Africa, , SKA Africa   

    From SKA Africa: “Karoo’s HERA radio telescope attracts even more international funding” 

    SKA Square Kilometer Array

    SKA

    SKA Icon

    SKA Africa

    6 March 2017
    Lorenzo Raynard
    SKA SA Head: Communication and Stakeholder Relations
    Email: lraynard@ska.ac.za
    Mobile: +27 (0)71 454 0658

    19 dishes, UC Berkeley Hydrogen Epoch of Reionization Array (HERA), at the Karoo desert site, South Africa
    Hydrogen Epoch of Reionization Array (HERA), at the Karoo desert site, South Africa

    The Hydrogen Epoch of Reionization Array (HERA) radio telescope, located only a few kilometres from the MeerKAT radio telescope, was awarded a grant from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation in the US to the value of $5.8 million, equivalent to approximately R75 million.

    SKA Meerkat telescope, 90 km outside the small Northern Cape town of Carnarvon, SA
    SKA Meerkat telescope, 90 km outside the small Northern Cape town of Carnarvon, SA

    The construction of HERA started in 2015 and already 35 of the 14-metre diameter dishes have been erected. In September 2016, the National Science Foundation (NSF) invested $9.5 million (equivalent to approximately R124 million) in the project and HERA was granted the status of a Square Kilometre Array (SKA) precursor telescope. The NSF funding allowed the array to expand to 240 radio dishes by 2018. This additional funding injection from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation will allow HERA to expand even further to 350 dishes.

    This innovative radio telescope will be instrumental in detecting the distinctive signature that would allow astronomers to understand the formation and evolution of the very first luminous sources: the first stars and galaxies in the Universe – a period the scientists call the Epoch of Reionization (EoR).

    With the grant from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, the sensitivity of the array can be increased and potentially detect signals coming from a time before the EoR in the history of the Universe, the Cosmic Dawn, roughly 400 million years after the Big Bang. HERA will be able to access a cosmological signal roughly 100,000 times fainter than emissions from the Milky Way and nearby galaxies.

    Dr Gianni Bernardi, SKA South Africa senior astronomer working on HERA, says: “The new funding increases the sensitivity of HERA by adding 110 dishes – 350 dishes in total. This increase in collecting area provides the sufficient sensitivity to attempt imaging large ionized bubbles rather than measuring ‘only’ their statistical properties.”

    Using this next-generation instrumentation for 21-cm cosmology – the wavelength of neutral hydrogen gas radio waves – HERA will probe the 3D structure of the Universe during the very first appearance of stars, galaxies and black holes. This first generation of hot massive stars and black-hole binaries filled the intergalactic medium with X-rays.

    “Observations at the lowest radio frequencies (<100 MHz), allows for observations of the epoch that precedes cosmic reionization where X-rays are expected to have heated the intergalactic medium. As X-rays are expected to be generated by accretion on black holes, observations of this epoch will directly probe the properties of the first black holes formed in the Universe." says Bernardi. HERA comprises a close-packed array of fixed parabolic reflector elements (dishes). The centre position of each dish is determined by the placement of a concrete hub. These hubs constrain radial PVC spars, tensioned into approximate parabolas against a rim, which is supported by utility (telephone) poles. Welded mesh panels are installed on these spars to form the reflector surface. Project Engineer Kathryn Rosie is responsible for HERA's construction in the Karoo and says: "Five local residents, who have been part of the HERA construction crew since 2015, have recently taken up positions as HERA team leaders in anticipation of the crew expansion for the 'big build' in early 2017. In addition to maintaining construction activities, they now have the added responsibility to train new construction team members. The build-out plan for the next construction phase sees five teams working in parallel to achieve the build targets, which require an output of approximately 100 dishes per year, and it is expected that the entire crew contingent will be made up of Karoo residents." Rosie says: "In excess of R1.7 million has been spent thus far with local suppliers in the Karoo to purchase the material with which the telescope is being built. We are proud of the fact that all of the build materials, items, and labour involved in the construction of the reflector elements have been sourced from within South Africa, with most of our bulk materials being sourced from within the Karoo region." Dr Rob Adam, Managing Director of SKA South Africa, says: "The SKA project in the Karoo is progressing very well and this additional funding injection is evidence of the confidence the international community has in the excellent skills and results we are demonstrating. SKA SA remains committed in ensuring that local communities and businesses benefit from the construction of radio telescopes in the Karoo and HERA is a fine example of that." Dr Adam adds: "It is particularly fitting that the man who originated Moore's Law, Gordon Moore, is affiliated to the SKA project through this Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation grant." Gordon Moore is the chairman and co-founder of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation. Gordon Moore predicted in 1965 that there will be a steady shrinking of computer chip circuitry. This idea that transistor density would double with each new generation of technology is referred to as the Moore's Law. Notes to Editors

    The HERA collaboration consists of Arizona State University, Brown University, Cambridge University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, Scuola Normale Superiore (Pisa), Square Kilometre Array South Africa (SKA SA), University of California at Berkeley, the University of California at Los Angeles, the University of Pennsylvania, and the University of Washington. Participating South African institutions include Rhodes University, the University of KwaZulu-Natal, the University of the Western Cape and the University of the Witwatersrand.

    HERA is one of a number of low frequency radio telescopes, including the Murchison Widefield Array (MWA) in Australia and the Low-Frequency Array (LOFAR) in the Netherlands that are pathfinders for SKA1 LOW to be located in Australia.

    SKA Murchison Widefield Array,SKA Murchison Widefield Array, Boolardy station in outback Western Australia, at the Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory (MRO)
    SKA Murchison Widefield Array,SKA Murchison Widefield Array, Boolardy station in outback Western Australia, at the Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory (MRO)

    SKA LOFAR core near Exloo, Netherlands
    SKA LOFAR core near Exloo, Netherlands

    The SKA is an international effort to build the world’s largest radio telescope – one hundred times more sensitive than any current radio telescope. The scale of the SKA represents a huge leap forward in both engineering and research and development towards building and delivering a unique instrument. As one of the largest scientific endeavours in history, the SKA will bring together a wealth of the world’s finest scientists, engineers and policy makers to bring the project to fruition. SKA will be built in two phases – SKA1 and SKA2 – starting in 2018. SKA1 will include two components – SKA1 MID (to be built in South Africa) and SKA1 LOW (to be built in Australia); they will observe the Universe at different radio frequencies.

    See the full article here .

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    SKA Banner

    SKA CSIRO  Pathfinder Telescope
    SKA ASKAP Pathefinder Telescope

    SKA Meerkat telescope
    SKA Meerkat Telescope

    SKA Murchison Widefield Array
    SKA Murchison Wide Field Array

    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.

    The Square Kilometre Array (SKA) project is an international effort to build the world’s largest radio telescope, led by SKA Organisation. The SKA will conduct transformational science to improve our understanding of the Universe and the laws of fundamental physics, monitoring the sky in unprecedented detail and mapping it hundreds of times faster than any current facility.

    Already supported by 10 member countries – Australia, Canada, China, India, Italy, New Zealand, South Africa, Sweden, The Netherlands and the United Kingdom – SKA Organisation has brought together some of the world’s finest scientists, engineers and policy makers and more than 100 companies and research institutions across 20 countries in the design and development of the telescope. Construction of the SKA is set to start in 2018, with early science observations in 2020.

     
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