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South Africa is set for a massive boost in science with the recent announcement that the country – together with eight African partner nations – will host the majority of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) telescope project.
Ready for the world’s most powerful radio telescope, South Africa with partners Botswana, Ghana, Kenya, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia and Zambia, will host 70 per cent of the SKA project, while New Zealand and Australia will host the remainder.
The telescope, which will be fully operational in 2024, combines thousands of satellite dishes and antennae spread out over thousands of square kilometres. This enables it to look deep into space – allowing astronomers to explore the origins of the universe and detect signs of extraterrestrial life.
SKA brings with it a number of benefits, including increased regional collaboration among African countries and increased interest in astronomy.
A cheerful Minister of Science and Technology Naledi Pandor said the project would change the profile for Africa.
“It means if I as an astronomy scientist wanted to probe the galaxy far more deeply than has ever been probed before, … I would have to come to Africa… So, suddenly Africa becomes a destination for science, rather than a place to which you come to extract minerals and take them somewhere else to have value added to them,” said Pandor.
She said more than 500 research groups had already placed bookings to use South Africa’s SKA precursor telescope, MeerKAT, from 2016.
REERS IN SCIENCE
The Minister added that the Department of Science and Technology planned to popularise SKA in schools by strengthening the existing SKA schools outreach programme, which helps students develop careers in science.