Paper boosts SA SKA site

2012-04-03 12:46
The Paper experiment has proved the viability of the SKA site proposed by SA. (picture provided)

The Paper experiment has proved the viability of the SKA site proposed by SA. (picture provided)

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Cape Town - The Precision Array to Probe Epoch of Reionization (Paper) experiment has demonstrated that the Karoo site proposed by South Africa for the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) was ideal.

The Paper experiment aims to unlock the mystery of star formation in the early universe by imaging the hydrogen gas as it is ionised by ultra-violet light. The first stars "switched on" about one billion years after the big bang when the universe cooled to -200°C.

"One of the benefits of having that telescope on our site is that it's proved what a good site it is," Dr Bernie Fanaroff, director of SKA South Africa told News24.

SA is bidding against Australia to host the SKA project which will see over 3 000 linked radio telescopes being built. SA has already built the KAT 7 (Karoo Array Telescope) which consists of seven dishes as a precursor to the MeerKAT which will consist of 64 dishes in the Northern Cape province.

SA is bidding against Australia to host the SKA project which will see over 3 000 linked radio telescopes being built. SA has already built the KAT 7 (Karoo Array Telescope) which consists of seven dishes as a precursor to the MeerKAT which will consist of 64 dishes in the Northern Cape province.

The SKA SA team has a number of collaborations with institutions including the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of Pennsylvania.

Interference

"Paper is a collaboration between ourselves and a number of universities and institutions in the United States. It's looking for the signals of the very first stars turning on in the universe.

"We have 64 of them [Paper radio dishes] on the site now, and we'll have a 128 by July. That in itself is a very exciting project and is likely to produce exciting results," Fanaroff said.

He demonstrated the interference from the Paper site in West Virginia versus the clear images from the site in the Karoo.

The government has declared the area a radio reserve by the Astronomy Geographic Advantage Act of 2007 which gives the minister powers to amend or prohibit activity which may have an impact on radio astronomy in the area around the towns of Carnarvon and Williston, home to about 2 000 residents each.

The expansion of the Paper experiment is a result of the efforts made to ensure that the site is ideal for radio astronomy and Fanaroff is pleased that it has met with the standards set.

"You can see from the observations of Paper what a good site we have there."

The SKA Phase 1 will consist  of 250 antennas, but it will significantly alter the landscape of the Karoo when more than 3 000 are built in the area.

Broadband

"You'll have nearly 2 000 dishes spread over a relatively small area of a few tens of kilometres and then the rest of the dishes spread out through Africa," said Fanaroff.

The site has already been equipped with fibre broadband cable to transmit what will be an enormous amount of data to Cape Town where a team of about 70 engineers and scientists have been doing development work on the technology of the antennas.

"We've got an optical fibre from the Karoo to Cape Town so we can control the telescope remotely from Cape Town," Fanaroff said.


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Read more on:    kimberley  |  astronomy  |  ska
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