South African Scientists Make Triple Black Hole Discovery

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

AFRICANGLOBE – South Africa’s cabinet has congratulated the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) SA-funded researchers who discovered a triple supermassive black hole system, saying the discovery demonstrates the country’s scientific and technical expertise.

“This is positive confirmation of the dynamic and significant radio astronomy which has developed rapidly in South Africa,” Communications Minister Faith Muthambi told the media on Thursday, following Cabinet’s regular meeting.

According to SKA South Africa, multiple supermassive black hole systems are thought to have a significant impact on the way galaxies evolve, particularly through their impact on stars and gas as they spiral in towards one another.

The discovery of the triple black hole system, the tightest trio of black holes known to date, is remarkable since most galaxies have just one at their centre and suggests that closely packed supermassive black holes are far more common than previously thought.

SKA South Africa funded the research leading to the discovery, which has been published in the scientific journal Nature.

Minister Muthambi said this internationally recognised research was a reminder of the unique opportunities presented to South Africa as a result of the successful bid to build the skills set by stimulating interest in science and engineering among youth.

“It also provides the country with a basis to start producing scientists who will contribute to achieving Vision 2030 of the National Development Plan (NDP). This discovery is the beginning of many more that will be made possible with the Square Kilometre Array.” The SKA project is an international effort to build a mega radio telescope – about 100 times more sensitive than the biggest existing radio telescope.

The first phase of the SKA will be co-hosted by South Africa and Australia, with eight southern African countries partnering with South Africa during the second phase.

Construction is expected to begin in 2017 and conclude in 2024, at an estimated cost to the 10 SKA member countries of €1.5 billion.

According to the minister, the project has opened many opportunities in the country, in particular thousands of jobs in construction, operations and maintenance in the Northern Cape where the core of the SKA is being built.

South Africa, meanwhile, has begun erecting the 64 antennas that will make up the MeerKAT radio telescope, the country’s precursor to the SKA, at the SKA South Africa site, outside Carnarvon, in the Northern Cape.