A speech delivered by Deputy Director General: RDI Val Munsami on behalf of Minister Naledi Pandor at the launch of the Full Moon Fever Campaign held at the South African state theatre in Pretoria
16 Nov 2011Programme Director;
Ladies and Gentlemen;
South Africa has come of age when it comes to astronomy capacity and capabilities. Our infrastructure and human capital development investments in space science and technology have ensured that our country is counted among the best in the world, and has earned the rare honour of being the world’s astronomy destination. We owe this to our strategic vision and geographical location that is conducive to space and astronomy activities.
Because of South Africa’s privileged position of possessing an almost pristine environment for radio and optical astronomy, a need arose to enact the Astronomy Geographic Advantage Act of 2008 to protect the country’s astronomy reserves from radio interference or light pollution. The Southern African Large Telescope (SALT) is one such giant facility that has turned our country into the world destination for scientists and researchers. The establishment of the South African National Space Agency (SANSA) is a welcome development that has become an important vehicle for promoting our growing satellite industry and a wide range of innovations in space sciences, earth observation, communications, navigation and engineering.
Tonight is a night with a difference for the discipline of science and technology. Scientists and researchers can, for a moment, forego their busy research schedules and get out of their laboratories to join us in celebrating astronomy and its impact on science in South Africa. Tonight we are launching the Full Moon Fever Campaign. This is the first of many events that will take place around the country leading up to the announcement of the winner of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) bid in the first half of 2012. All the exhibitions and performing arts that are billed to grace the stage are designed to stimulate discussion and interest in science & astronomy. We will learn while being entertained and having fun.
As part of encouraging awareness for Africa’s bid to host the Square Kilometre Array, my department decided to use the remaining months leading up to the bid announcement to rally support from communities in South Africa and on the continent for the African SKA bid by:
From time immemorial the Moon, whose average distance from Earth is 384 000km, has been associated with interesting mysteries. Scientists have marveled at the influence the tidal forces of the Moon have on life. It takes about 29½ days, a lunar month, to complete one cycle of the Moon’s phases. The influence the Moon has had on our calendar can hardly be overemphasised. In the rural areas the Moon went beyond providing light at night to promoting social cohesion. It is not uncommon to find people gathered outside at night under the enabling light of the Moon.
- Hosting Full Moon Fever Events on Fridays and Saturdays closest to the full moon of each month.
- Holding career exhibitions in partnership with the Tshwane University of Technology and University of South Africa to highlight the various fields of science and technology available to students and possible career paths with special focus on astronomy and radio astronomy.
- Creating, in partnership with the South African State Theatre, a mobile exhibition and a live stage play about Mission MeerKAT that will be performed in all 9 provinces of our country. A fully equipped truck will take the performances across the country with events also planned for outlying areas and smaller communities.
The Moon also plays a critical role to food security as shown by the presence of the Harvest Moon that occurs around the Northern Hemisphere Autumnal Equinox in September. The phrase “once in a Blue Moon” is related to the rare occurrence of four full moons appearing in one season – the third full moon is called the Blue Moon. The last Blue Moon occurred on 21 November 2010 and the next will be seen on 21 August 2013.
Because of the moods associated with the Moon, we have words like “lunatic” that are etymologically linked to the Moon.
The things or occurrences that we have come to take for granted, have in fact a rich science background. It is through the aid of research that humanity is able to gain a better understanding of nature and the universe. This knowledge we use to enjoy understanding of nature and exploit it to the advantage of humanity. That is why government has generously invested in human capital development so that the country could have at its disposal a critical mass of knowledge workers with the necessary skills to make our economy globally competitive. This takes place in a context where research is not an end in itself, but linked to development in the form of converting knowledge into products and services. In turn, such products and services must be properly protected and commercialised for them to have any meaningful impact on the growth of the economy.
Africa is bidding to host the world’s largest radio telescope, the Square Kilometre Array Telescope. Africa and Australia were short listed to host this $2 Billion telescope in 2007. The Square Kilometer Array will be 50 to 100 times more sensitive than any radio telescope previously built and will be comprised of 3 to 4 000 antennas spread over 3 000km. The African bid proposes placing remote stations, including 30 or 40 antennas each, in eight other countries on the continent: Botswana, Ghana, Kenya, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, and Zambia. The core site, with most of the antennas is proposed for the Northern Cape Province in South Africa. The Square Kilometre Array will require the world’s fastest supercomputer and 200Gbps internet speed to operate, thus it would propel Africa into the 22nd century and drive economic development across the continent.
As part of the African commitment to the SKA project, South Africa is building the Karoo Array Telescope, referred to as MeerKAT, in the Northern Cape Province. This telescope will be a world-class radio telescope in its own right when completed in 2016, and will be made up of 64 14-metre Gregorian off-set feed telescopes connected by means of the internet to a control centre presently proposed for Cape Town. This precursor is a demonstration telescope of technologies being considered for the SKA. Phase 1, KAT-7 (a seven-dish array telescope) is now completed with operations beginning in early 2012. Construction will begin on MeerKAT in 2012.
Hosting the Square Kilometer Array will change our economic fortunes; I reckon Africa will host the Square Kilometre Array. In our anticipation to win the Square Kilometre Array bid, let us have fun as we launch the Full Moon Fever Campaign.
I thank you.
Issued by: Department of Science and Technology
16 Nov 2011
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