SA determined to build MeerKAT

2011-12-14 15:57

Carnarvon - The government will soldier on with a multi-billion rand Karoo telescope, that will allow astronomers to see billions of years back in time, regardless of what happens with a bid to build the Square Kilometre Array (SKA).

Deputy Science and Technology Minister Derek Hanekom said the R1.1bn MeerKAT telescope offers a "multiplicity" of science and technology benefits for South Africa.

"If we want to put our economy onto a growth trajectory then we have to start moving from being a resource economy to a knowledge economy," said Hanekom.

"We are doing ground breaking science work with the MeerKAT project."

The MeerKAT will use 64 satellite dishes that pick up radio waves from deep space. The waves will form pictures that will help astronomers understand more about the universe and its origins.

Financial problems

It will be the largest, most sensitive telescope in the southern hemisphere.

"Opportunities for Africa to be catapulted into the world of science don't come around very often. So we are proceeding with the MeerKat and the investment will follow."

It is hoped that the MeerKAT will be expanded to form the more than 3 000 satellite SKA radio telescope.

SA has to beat Australia in a bid to build the €2bn SKA, but financial problems in Europe and the US have raised questions about whether the project has a future.

The US has indicated that it will not build any telescopes for the next ten years, while the EU is in the middle of a debt crisis and is likely to cut back on projects like the SKA.

Justin Jonas, the director for science and engineering at the SKA South Africa Project, refuses to be downcast.

"It's not build or die," he said at the arid proposed site of the SKA outside Carnarvon in the Northern Cape.

"We are going to build MeerKAT and lots of people are going to use it. The MeerKAT can still be enlarged to be the SKA."

Jonas said South Korea, India and even the EU could still help finance the project.

The SKA board, which is yet to appoint a leadership, will meet for the first time on January 18 to evaluate the South African and Australian bids.

Jonas said it was "anyone's guess" as to when the bid winner would be announced.

  • Celtis - 2011-12-14 16:07

    In SA you don’t need a telescope to see back in time. Just look around you. For every year the ANC rules we move 5 years back in time.

      PeggySven - 2011-12-14 16:09

      Well put Sir.

      Sheik - 2011-12-14 16:24

      And in another five years we'll by as advanced as Zimbabwe and Lesotho

      Anton - 2011-12-14 16:40

      Best comment in weeks. Well done :)

      Jo - 2011-12-14 17:54

      Excellent could not have put it any better!

      Bob - 2011-12-14 22:39


      Nicholas.Spaggiari - 2011-12-15 17:16

      One problem SA needs to avoid...and that is they are using "it will help South Africa" as part of their bid. I think that's a fat mistake as the projects purpose is not to help countries but to discover. I think that it would make SA look desperate for help instead of passionate about science. I would drop the it would help Africa part. Because when they look at Australia, they don't need help, it's just about the vision and that has more weight I think.

  • tobydt - 2011-12-14 16:25

    YES YES YES!!! Forward with MeerKAT!!!

      tobydt - 2011-12-14 16:29

      Even if we need to fund this ourselves, including the additional 20% for corruption, I would support this initiative.

      Phil.Kleynhans - 2011-12-14 16:42

      tobydt - Are you sure its only 20%

      tobydt - 2011-12-14 16:52

      I was using the amount vavi quoted last week in my example.

  • Alan - 2011-12-14 16:57

    Quite frankly who give a continental crap what happened a couple of billion years back. It's not going to build houses or feed people. And the channces of that money finding it's way into the wrong hands is highly likely given the current situation. NO, not my tax money. If the scientific community really want it then they must source it from the private sector.

      tobydt - 2011-12-14 17:06

      Its not JUST used to take a peak at the history of the universe (This alone is great reason for MeerKAT). It will allow us to take images of the universe, in the highest resolution possible IN THE WORLD. Scientific research projects into relativity (blackholes and the likes), dark-matter, anti-matter. Big bang theory research. The oberservation of cosmic magnetism AND, to search for evidence of extra terrestrials!

      Alan - 2011-12-14 17:09

      As I said, who cares? How is it going to benefit us?

      tobydt - 2011-12-14 17:14

      The question isnt, how will it benefit us... But rather, who will benefit from it. Humankind.

      Alan - 2011-12-14 17:22

      LOL, ask the man in the shack if he minds not having a livelihood because we wanted to build a giant telescope. Ask him as well if he minds that there is no sanitation infrastructure because we used the money to build R4.5 billion stadiums that we didn't need. Ask him if the pride he feels outways his hunger and starving kids. No dude, that money can be put to better use.

      tobydt - 2011-12-14 17:30

      We spent R4.5 billion on stadiums. And we are still reaping in the benefits of the soccer world cup. Tourism, foreign investments etc. Just imagine if we had won the SWC, how proud the average South African, living on the breadline would feel about his country. Imagine what being first in the world with regards to the discovery of dark matter or something just as fantastic will do to our national pride. We will have scientists from all over the world coming to South Africa. Our internet bandwidth will have to be increased dramatically, to handle the bandwidth of sending those high resolution images around the world. Do you benefit from knowing that the world isnt round?

      Alan - 2011-12-14 17:50

      The world isn't round? Damn, and I went to school for 12 years and got tertiary education as well. Seriously though, it was 4.5 billion just for the Cape Town Stadium. I assume that the others built were about the same price. Cape Town's as far as I know is running at a loss, I believe PE is the only one breaking even. We'll be paying for this for god alone knows how long. Yes, I know infrastructure was catapulted forward a bit, but those upgrades were in the pipeline for years. How does this benefit me, the man in the street? I think that the businesses benefit, so let the funding come from them. I would feel much more pride if we could put each one of our people into jobs so that all can be fed and housed. This project is sure as hell not going to achieve that.

      tobydt - 2011-12-14 17:53

      Do you benefit from knowing that the world isnt round? - Typo :P

  • Mike - 2011-12-14 18:00 can this happen to our advantage when whites in SA are being threatened with being chased into the sea? Australia is probably a more long-term stable option!

  • Jonathon - 2011-12-14 18:49

    How about paying off the multi-bilion rand road works so we don't have to pay that stupid toll system!!!

  • Turdy - 2011-12-15 02:07

    @alan: You are blind man.How can you be so ignorant?? The scientific community are the ones actually trying to alleviate hunger and energy problems by making giant steps forward.All politicians ever accomplish is generating greater gaps between rich and poor,and fooling the sheeple by keeping them uneducated.Self interest is at the heart of political agenda.Will always be.Go read animal farm.maybe you will learn more from that than you learned in your 15 years education.You want all the people to have jobs?? maybe you should look at the bigger picture.We must move from merely having a freakin job to actually applying our fantastic minds and advancing the human species.Or do you want to be like china,where people have mindless jobs,but hey!at least they are alive.It's because of narrow minded people that the pigs will always rule the world,and that there will ALWAYS be inequality.

      Alan - 2011-12-18 15:54

      A mindless job to the man that has nothing is better than no job. Please feel free to spend you salary and bonuses if applicable on this as I don't feel that it is justified that mine goes in there, neither should tax money. I certainly don't think that looking into the confines of space is going to enrich the general populace.

  • Turdy - 2011-12-15 02:26

    @tobydt and majorus : I'm glad to have fellow citizens like you guys.We need more forward thinkers in this country.

  • Mark - 2011-12-15 12:36

    The Meerkat polygraph (the ANC lie detector) project will never get completed because it's just another ANC lie to fleece the tax payer.

  • ludlowdj - 2011-12-15 15:35

    I am sorry to say that Dereck Hanekom is starting to believe his own hype. For starters the outlay for this telescope or array is highly unlikely to ever be recovered, secondly a telescope will have no effect on our economy to any degree, the use of words like resource economy and knowledge economy, having absolutely no real life meaning or implications. and last but not least the building of this telescope will have limited short term employment implications for a minimum of people and will not be of benefit to anyone other than a small number of scientists. In short Mr. Hanekom is trying to sell us snake oil. The only people who will in any matter or form make any money out of this will be those who need it least and who currently have the most, the white upper class.

      Majorus - 2011-12-15 19:10

      Yes, MeerKAT is all about making profit. Lets stop this right now While we're at it, lets stop scientific research into medicine too - we all know only rich people have shares in pharmaceutical companies. Screw the disease ridden I say

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