SKA is a big science project for SA

2012-04-02 14:40
A model of the revised MeerKAT dish which is closely aligned to the SKA requirements is seen at the project office in Cape Town. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

A model of the revised MeerKAT dish which is closely aligned to the SKA requirements is seen at the project office in Cape Town. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

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Cape Town - The Square Kilometre Array (SKA) is a project on the scale of the Large Hadron Collider particle accelerator on the French and Swiss border in Europe.

"It's important to understand what the Square Kilometre Array project really means. It's at the present time, the world's largest science project," Dr Bernie Fanaroff, director of SKA South Africa told News24.

"When it is built it will be on the scale of the particle accelerator at Cern [European Council for Nuclear Research]. The SKA is on that sort of scale, if not bigger."

SA is bidding against Australia to host the 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 first KAT 7 radio telescope was installed in July 2009, beating the Australians by about six months in producing their demonstration Askap (Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder) instrument.

Team capacity

"Having it on the African continent is going to be a very dramatic statement about what we can do in Africa," Fanaroff said.

The SKA SA team has agreements with technology companies such as IBM, Microsoft and Intel to solve several technical problems to ensuring that the collected data from the instrument is processed, but not contaminated.

"Cisco and Google are also talking to us and this is a recognition of the fact that all of a sudden, people are realising that in South Africa in particular and Africa in general, we have outstanding technical capacity," said Fanaroff.

He acknowledged the capacity of the South African team that compiled the information for the bid.

"One of the big advantages we had is that we have such an excellent team in this country: The team that put together our bid I think consists of the most outstanding young people in science and engineering anywhere in the world.

"The sheer volume is what that team put together is mind boggling: We sent 27 000 pages of evidence, designs and information as put of our bid. That was a lot of work."

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