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  • richardmitnick 12:54 pm on October 18, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , SKA - Square Kilometre Array, University of the Western Cape   

    From Nature: “A beacon in the bush becomes an astronomy powerhouse” 

    Nature Mag

    13 October 2016
    Linda Nordling

    Afripics / Alamy Stock Photo

    The architects of South Africa’s apartheid regime never meant for the University of the Western Cape (UWC) on the outskirts of Cape Town to excel at anything. Created in 1960 as a ‘bush college’ to provide black South Africans with limited training, it was not expected to compete with the country’s well-resourced research universities. Its squat buildings were erected far from the city’s wealthy shopping malls, leafy parks and pristine beaches.

    While the legacy of apartheid looms large in many of South Africa’s social and economic structures, the UWC is not defined by its past. Since the fall of the regime in 1994, the university has established an impressive research record, increasing its articles in Thomson Reuters’ Web of Science database from 31 that year to 657 in 2015, a rise of more than 2000%. In 2014 the university ranked fifth in South Africa for the number of staff holding PhDs — joining the country’s historically ‘white’ institutions in that measure.

    But, it’s in physical sciences that UWC really punches above its weight compared to South Africa’s elite institutions. The university’s contribution to physical science research in the index, measured by weighted fractional count (WFC), more than doubled between 2012 and 2015. Meanwhile, the University of Cape Town, with its century-long history of academic excellence and sterling research record, saw its WFC in physical science fall slightly over the same time.

    Astronomical ambitions

    UWC’s rise in the index is largely due to publications in astronomy, says Roy Maartens, the head of the physics department’s astronomy research group. Maartens returned from the UK to South Africa, his home country, in 2011 to take up UWC’s new chair in radio astronomy. The position was part of the government’s push to boost the country’s chances of winning its bid to host the Square Kilometre Array, a giant radio telescope. And South Africa won. The majority of the telescope, which will comprise thousands of radio antennae spread across a vast area, including countries further north in Africa, will be built in South Africa’s central Karoo semi-desert. The growth of UWC’s astronomy group over the past decade, from none to 6 staff, 15 postdoctoral researchers and 13 postgraduate students today, has been backed by national investments in the SKA. The UWC group is leading efforts to turn the SKA into a state-of-the-art cosmology experiment, probing the structure of dark energy and testing Einstein’s general theory of relativity.

    Maartens also made UWC history a few years ago when he became the first researcher at the institution to be awarded an A1 rating by the country’s National Research Foundation. The accolade comes with modest funding for the department, but the main impact is symbolic because it is only given to researchers judged to be global leaders in their fields, says Reggie Madjoe, a materials science professor at the university. That, and getting the department a decent coffee machine. “We used to make do with instant, but now with all the famous scientists visiting we need to be able to offer something better,” he says.

    To Madjoe and others like him, who could only study at UWC, the achievements of the university’s faculty offer great personal satisfaction. “I have to pinch myself,” he says. To this day UWC’s students are mostly non-white, but this makes its academic achievements all the more vital for the future of South Africa, Madjoe says. “We are shaking off the shackles of history. This is a place for everybody, a place for quality, a place to grow,” he says.

    Maarten believes this is just the beginning for UWC and its astronomy group. When a precursor of the SKA, MeerKAT, comes online next year it will be the world’s most powerful radio telescope until the SKA is built, says Maartens.

    SKA Meerkat telescope, South African design
    SKA Meerkat telescope, South African design

    SKA South Africa Icon
    SKA Square Kilometer Array

    UWC researchers will use MeerKAT to study galaxy populations and their evolution. “It presents a fantastic opportunity. Our success so far is nice but we have bigger fish to fry,” he says.

    However, both of Maarten and Madjoe acknowledge the university may face tough times ahead. Last year, violent protests suspended classes at campuses all over the country, with students demanding an end to tuition fees. At the UWC campus students burnt buildings. The government has estimated the cost of vandalism nationwide at more than R600 million (US$43m)

    As the 2016 academic year draws to a close, violence has erupted again. There are widespread concerns that extended unrest will threaten research at the country’s universities. Projects such as the SKA, which are of high national priority, are giving UWC astronomy a buffer for now, says Maartens.

    See the full article here .

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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 10:15 am on September 23, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Science | Business, SKA - Square Kilometre Array,   

    From SKA via Science Business: “Square Kilometre Array prepares for the ultimate big data challenge” 

    SKA Square Kilometer Array



    Science | Business

    22 September 2016
    Éanna Kelly

    The world’s most powerful radio telescope will collect more information each day than the entire internet. Major advances in computing are required to handle this data, but it can be done, says Bernie Fanaroff, strategic advisor for the SKA

    The Square Kilometre Array (SKA), the world’s most powerful telescope, will be ready from day one to gather an unprecedented volume of data from the sky, even if the supporting technical infrastructure is yet to be built.

    “We’ll be ready – the technology is getting there,” Bernie Fanaroff, strategic advisor for the most expensive and sensitive radio astronomy project in the world, told Science|Business.

    Construction of the SKA is due to begin in 2018 and finish sometime in the middle of the next decade. Data acquisition will begin in 2020, requiring a level of processing power and data management know-how that outstretches current capabilities.

    Astronomers estimate that the project will generate 35,000-DVDs-worth of data every second. This is equivalent to “the whole world wide web every day,” said Fanaroff.

    The project is investing in machine learning and artificial intelligence software tools to enable the data analysis. In advance of construction of the vast telescope – which will consist of some 250,000 radio antennas split between sites in Australia and South Africa – SKA already employs more than 400 engineers and technicians in infrastructure, fibre optics and data collection.

    The project is also working with IBM, which recently opened a new R&D centre in Johannesburg, on a new supercomputer. SKA will have two supercomputers to process its data, one based in Cape Town and one in Perth, Australia.

    Recently, elements of the software under development were tested on the world’s second fastest supercomputer, the Tianhe-2, located in the National Supercomputer Centre in Guangzhou, China. It is estimated a supercomputer with three times the power of Tianhe-2 will need to be built in the next decade to cope with all the SKA data.

    In addition to the analysis, the project requires large off-site data warehouses. These will house storage devices custom-built in South Africa. “There were too many bells and whistles with the stuff commercial providers were offering us. It was far too expensive, so we’ve designed our own servers which are cheaper,” said Fanaroff.

    Fanaroff was formerly director of SKA, retiring at the end of 2015, but remaining as a strategic advisor to the project. He was in Brussels this week to explore how African institutions could gain access to the European Commission’s new Europe-wide science cloud, tentatively scheduled to go live in 2020.

    Ten countries are members of the SKA, which has its headquarters at Manchester University’s Jodrell Bank Observatory, home of the world’s third largest fully-steerable radio telescope. The bulk of SKA’s funding has come from South Africa, Australia and the UK.

    Currently its legal status is as a British registered company, but Fanaroff says the plan is to create an intergovernmental arrangement similar to CERN. “The project needs a treaty to lock in funding,” he said.

    Early success

    On SKA’s website is a list of five untold secrets of the cosmos, which the telescope will explore. These include how the very first stars and galaxies formed just after the Big Bang.

    However, Fanaroff, believes the Eureka moment will be something nobody could have imagined. “It’ll make its name, like every telescope does, by discovering an unknown, unknown,” he said.

    A first taste of the SKA’s potential arrived in July through the MeerKAT telescope, which will form part of the SKA. MeerKAT will eventually consist of 64 dishes, but the power of the 16 already installed has surpassed Fanaroff’s expectations.

    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 telescope revealed over a thousand previously unknown galaxies. “Two things were remarkable: when we switched it on, people told us it was going to take a long time to work. But it collected very good images from day one. Also, our radio receivers worked four times better than specified,” he said. Some 500 scientists have already booked time on the array.

    Researchers with the Breakthrough Listen project, a search for intelligent life funded by Russian billionaire Yuri Milner, would also like a slot, Fanaroff said. Their hunt is exciting and a good example of the sort of bold mission for which SKA will be built. “It’s high-risk, high-reward territory. If you search for aliens and you find nothing, you end your career with no publications. But on the other hand you could be involved in one of the biggest discoveries ever,” said Fanaroff.

    Golden age

    SKA has helped put South Africa’s scientific establishment in the shop window says Fanaroff, referring to the recent Nature Index, which indicates the country’s scientists are publishing record levels of high-quality research, mostly in astronomy. “It’s the start of a golden age,” Fanaroff predicted.

    Not that the SKA does not have its critics. With so much public funding going to the telescope, “Some scientists were a little bit bitter at the beginning,” Fanaroff said. “But that has faded with the global interest from science and industry we’re attracting. The SKA can go on to be a platform for all science in Africa, not just astronomy.”

    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.

  • richardmitnick 9:20 am on September 23, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , , SKA - Square Kilometre Array   

    From AARNet: “Building the Square Kilometre Array” 



    No writer credit found

    AARNet is among the Australian participants in the global Square Kilometre Array project

    SKA Square Kilometer Array

    The Square Kilometre Array (SKA) project is an ambitious global scientific and engineering project to build the world’s largest most sensitive telescope co-located in remote desert regions of southern Africa and Western Australia. The project is currently in the design and pre-construction phase. Australia and New Zealand collaborated to establish the SKA candidate site in Western Australia and also to build the Australian SKA Pathfinder (ASKAP) telescope now located there.

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

    When the SKA is operational, hundreds of thousands of antennas will hugely increase the ability of astronomers to explore the far reaches of the universe and address mysteries around dark energy, gravity and life elsewhere.

    Watch this video produced by the Australian Government Department of Industry for an explanation about the project and the role Australia plays:

    You can also learn all about the SKA project at the SKA Organisation website.

    More than 250 scientists and engineers from 18 countries and nearly 100 institutions, universities and industry will be involved in ‘work packages’ for different elements of the design. Australian industry and research institutes will participate in seven of the eleven work packages, with AARNet working with CSIRO in Signal and Data Transport (including synchronisation) (SaDT).

    Expanding the network to meet the needs of the SKA

    To enable Australia’s participation in the SKA project, AARNet expanded its network across the Nullabor, from Adelaide to Perth and on to the Murchison Radio Observatory (MRO), the future home of the SKA in remote outback Western Australia.

    The newly deployed terrestrial network is capable of transmission speeds of up to 8 Terabits per second (Tbps). The network expansion is a component of the National Research Network (NRN) Project, an initiative of the Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research, funded from the Education Investment Fund under the Super Science (Future Industries)

    Connecting the SKA precursor telescopes at the MRO

    To develop technologies for the SKA, two precursor telescopes, the Australian SKA Pathfinder (ASKAP) and the Murchison Widefield Array (MWA), have been built and are now operating at the MRO. AARNet Interconnects the telescopes at the MRO with the computer processing required for extracting useful information from the signals. Fast reliable research network connectivity is critical for processing data generated from the new radio telescopes.

    The Australian SKA Pathfinder (ASKAP) is an innovative new radio telescope consisting of 36 identical 12-metre wide dish antennas. Plans are in place to add 60 more dishes to the telescope in the SKA’s first phase. The ASKAP uses revolutionary Phased Array Feed (PAF) technology, developed in Australia by CSIRO and others, which enables each dish to survey the sky with a much wider field of view. The volume of data generated by the PAFs and low frequency receivers will be substantial.

    CSIRO and AARNet worked together to connect the ASKAP antennas to the AARNet network. New optical fibres were laid between Geraldton and ASKAP, connecting to the new Geraldton-Perth link constructed by Nextgen Networks for the federal government-funded Regional Backbone Blackspots Program. This enables ASKAP to connect directly via a high-capacity link to the Pawsey supercomputing facilities in Perth.

    The Murchison Widefield Array (MWA) is a revolutionary static low-frequency telescope that can be shared by observers studying different parts of the sky at the same time.

    SKA Murchison Widefield Array, in Western Australia
    SKA Murchison Widefield Array, in Western Australia

    Knowledge gained from the MWA will contribute to the development of the low-frequency component of the SKA to be built in Phase two.

    AARNet and CSIRO collaborated to deliver a transmission network for the MWA. The network is installed on fibre optic infrastructure constructed by AARNet for the CSIRO and by Nextgen Networks for the federal government-funded Regional Backbone Blackspots Program.

    AARNet is providing the network services for the transmission of the data between the MWA sensors and the Pawsey High Performance Computing Centre for SKA Science, located 800kms away in Perth.

    The network is scalable to support the needs of the MWA now and into future early phases of the SKA.

    See the full article here .

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    AARNet provides critical infrastructure for driving innovation in today’s knowledge-based economy

    Australia’s Academic and Research Network (AARNet) is a national resource – a National Research and Education Network (NREN). AARNet provides unique information communications technology capabilities to enable Australian education and research institutions to collaborate with each other and their international peer communities.

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