SKA project pushing new frontiers

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Science and Technology Minister Naledi Pandor says the Square Kilometre Array project, which is a joint effort between South Africa and Australia to build the world’s largest radio telescope, will push the boundaries of technology.

The Minister said this when she spoke at the launch of the Ghana Radio Astronomy Observatory in Kuntunse, in Ghana, on Thursday afternoon.

The radio telescope was repurposed from a communications antenna into a receiver of data that will allow scientists to receive and analyse big data from the universe.

Addressing VIP guests at the Presidential launch - which was also attended by Ghana President Nana Akufo-Addo, SA High Commissioner to Ghana Lulu Xingwana, the Minister of Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation, Professor Kwabena Frimpong-Boateng and SA International Relations Deputy Minister Luwellyn Landers - Minister Pandor said the SKA project was recently compared to an “IT project with an astronomy question as a driver”.

“It's an IT project of the kind that pushes the boundaries of global technology.

“Big tech companies like IBM and Cisco are already involved, because they know it will allow them to develop the knowledge and technologies that will keep them at the leading edge of computing,” she said.

The Minister said the involvement of IT companies will, in turn, benefit computer users in many spheres - from finance to government - through industry and medicine to other science researchers.

“SKA challenges big data to the extreme. All science pushes the boundaries of knowledge but big science like SKA has the ambition to push those boundaries beyond the imaginable.

“On the other hand, what can be more important than seeking a better understanding of our origins, how the universe was born, or how galaxies and stars were formed?”

The Minister’s remarks comes after the radio telescope recently reached a milestone by being the first one in Africa outside of South Africa to reach “first light”.

In scientific speak, “first light” refers to an event where after a number of tests are done on a dish receiver, and in the process, the first few images are received.

The success of this occurrence is benchmarked against results from other telescopes that are viewing the same source.

This is an indicator that the radio telescope is ready to be commissioned for astronomy research.

Minister Pandor expressed her gratitude at the support that the South African government and the SKA South Africa team received from the Ghanaian government and the science community.

“We also benefitted from the generosity of my colleague the Minister of International Relations in South Africa who allowed us to access the African Renaissance fund to support or Kuntunse radio observatory project.

“We are here today to mark the establishment of a radio telescope in Ghana.

“We have travelled far to share this moment. We have travelled with a collective purpose that is ambitious and far-sighted.

“And that purpose is to launch an African project that has its roots in South Africa. We in South Africa want it not only to have roots in South Africa but also to put down roots all over Africa.

“Today we launch an astronomical observatory in Ghana that hosts the first radio telescope in Africa outside South Africa,” she said.

She also said that she was excited that Africa will reveal the future of astronomy over the next decade.

“We have decided to put Africa on the map where innovative science is concerned.

“This first radio telescope in Ghana is a significant milestone. It's long-term significance lies in the contribution it will make to the SKA,” she said. –

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