SA, Mauritius agree to build telescope

2011-09-20 11:13
Cape Town - South Africa and Mauritius have agreed to jointly construct a low-frequency array telescope.

Science and Technology Minister Naledi Pandor met with her counterpart from Mauritius, Rajesh Jeetah, and agreed that the two countries would construct a radio telescope array in preparation for the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) bid.

The SKA will link thousands of radio telescopes in the Northern Cape province and will enable astronomers to look billions of years back in time to the origins of the universe.

Dubbed the Multifrequency Interferometry Telescope for Radio Astronomy (Mitra), the project will aim to do extremely wide-field imaging with heterogeneous non coplanar arrays and was begun by Girish Kumar Beeharry, from the University of Mauritius, and Stuart David Macpherson and Gary Peter Janse Van Vuuren, from the Durban University of Technology.

Using the science of radio interferometry, the instruments will be able to create accurate images of stars and galaxies, similar to what is planned for the SKA and MeerKAT (Karoo Array Telescope) in the Karoo.


Pandor recently said the SKA and MeerKAT projects represent a grand challenge for SA.

"If we get this, obviously it's a world first, not just an African or South African first, and that certainly makes it a grand challenge," Naledi Pandor told News24.

The first two Mitra nodes are being developed at the Mauritius Radio Telescope site at Bras d'Eau, Poste de Flacq and in Durban, at the DUT campus.

The instrument will conduct a range of experiments and help prepare astronomers and engineers for the implementation of the SKA and MeerKAT.

The South African bid team, which is in competition with Australia to host the SKA, is quietly confident about the success of the project.

"Quite honestly, I don't know what the Australians are proposing so I'm not in a position to say whether we're going to win or not. All I can say is we've put in a strong bid and I think we have a good chance," SA SKA project director Dr Bernie Fanaroff told News24.

A final decision of the country to host the SKA is expected by March 2012 and the MeerKAT is expected to go online by 2016.

- Follow Duncan on Twitter

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