High-powered visitors to land at SA SKA site

2013-09-10 12:02
Minister of science and technology Derek Hanekom leans on one of the KAT 7 radio antenna dishes on the site of the SKA outside Carnarvon. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

Minister of science and technology Derek Hanekom leans on one of the KAT 7 radio antenna dishes on the site of the SKA outside Carnarvon. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

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Cape Town - The site of the MeerKAT (Karoo Array Telescope) will be visited by a high-powered UK delegation on Wednesday.

The UK minister of state for universities and science, David Willetts will visit the site where the 64-dish radio telescope will be built near Carnarvon in the Northern Cape province.

Willetts will be the first to use the newly built all-weather landing strip constructed at the site which has been declared a radio reserve by the Astronomy Geographic Advantage Act of 2007.

"It is a pleasure to see our South African SKA colleagues hosting Minister Willets at one of the telescope sites, a few months after the minister inaugurated the SKA Headquarters in the UK," said Professor Philip Diamond, director-general of the SKA Organisation.

The MeerKAT is a South African project, but it is expected that the 64 antennas, to be completed by 2016, will be incorporated into the much larger SKA (Square Kilometre Array) which is jointly being hosted by SA and Australia.


The SKA will consist of about 3 000 linked radio telescopes and the first phase of the project will see the construction of an additional 190 telescopes on the site to make up the mid-frequency component of the instrument.

The 1 300m landing strip is a key development for the site as it will give work crews faster access to the site and it has been built to accommodate aeroplanes seating up to 13 passengers.

Travel to the site was difficult as the area was deliberately intended to be isolated. The landing strip is expected to ease travel to the MeerKAT site, but engineers ensured that its placement will avoid any radio interference with the MeerKAT or SKA instrument.

UK and South African scientists collaborate closely in the development of the SKA and the non-profit SKA Organisation has located its head office near Manchester at the Jodrell Bank Observatory.

"The SKA is an extremely exciting project. I am delighted that the UK's world-leading astronomers are working closely with their South African colleagues at this important site. From how the first stars and galaxies formed to the nature of gravity, their work will vastly increase our understanding of the universe," said Willetts.

He added that the UK government intended to invest £19m ($30m) in the massive science project that will give scientists an unprecedented view of the early universe.

The South African government highlighted the development partnerships that have seen a number of exchange programmes between the UK and SA.

"The UK is indeed a key strategic partner of ours, with whom we have a number of successful human capital development programmes. While in the country, Minister Willetts will get to visit the SKA site and I am positive that he will be very impressed with progress made to date," said Minister of Science and Technology, Derek Hanekom.

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Read more on:    kimberley  |  astronomy  |  ska

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