South Africa, US Sign Radio Astronomy Pact

Radio Astronomy south Africa SKA
South Africa’s SKA radio telescopes

AFRICANGLOBE – South Africa’s Square Kilometre Array (SKA) project has struck an agreement with the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) of the United States that is set to foster high-level science collaboration between the two countries.

The SKA project is an international effort to build the world’s largest radio telescope, which is to be co-hosted by South Africa and Australia.

SKA South Africa said in a statement last week that the two institutions had agreed to “continue their collaboration across a broad front to advance cutting-edge radio astronomy projects in both countries over the next five years”.

The agreement, signed in Cape Town on 5 August, paves the way for SKA South Africa and the NRAO to pool resources and expertise in high-level projects related to the development and implementation of software, data processing and archiving, and state-of-the-art receiving systems.

The two institutions will exchange staff and students, hold joint workshops, and work on plans to establish joint research and development activities.

“The collaboration agreement renews long-standing ties between SKA South Africa and NRAO and comes at a time when a major push is required in algorithms, software and computing to support the new and upgraded facilities in the US and South Africa,” said Dr Jasper Horrell, SKA SA’s general manager for science computing and innovation.

“We are talking here of cutting-edge work in high-peformance computing and algorithms that is of great significance for radio astronomy worldwide.”

SKA South Africa director Dr Bernie Fanaroff said that radio astronomy in both countries would benefit from sharing the expertise that had resulted from recent expansions and upgrades to several radio astronomy facilities in the US, and the construction of the KAT-7 and the MeerKAT radio telescopes in South Africa.

The seven-dish KAT-7 is paving the way for the 64-dish MeerKAT telescope, due to be commissioned in 2014/15 both as a precursor to the SKA and as one of the most powerful telescopes in the world in its own right.

“Scientists in the US are keen to collaborate with South Africa in the construction of the MeerKAT telescope as a precursor to the SKA, because they recognize that the MeerKAT will be a world leading and very exciting telescope in its own right,” Fanaroff said.