Competition to raise SKA project awareness

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Pretoria - A competition aimed at raising public awareness about Africa's bid to host the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) among high school pupils is to be held by the Department of Science and Technology.

The competition will target learners from Grade eight to Grade 11. By answering five easy questions, the learners can win a laptop, notebook, iPod, printer or SKA SA branded clothing and bags.

South Africa and Australia are the only two bidders in the running to host the largest radio telescope, which will be used to collect radio waves from space-like planets, stars and galaxies.

The SKA will consist of approximately 3 000 dish-shaped antennae and other hybrid receiving technologies. If Africa wins the bid, the core of the telescope will be constructed near Carnarvon in the Karoo region of the Northern Cape, with outlying stations of about 30 to 40 antennae located in African partner countries. These antennae will be connected via a data communications network to a data-processing facility.

The combined collecting area of the SKA will add up to one square kilometer (One million square metres).

The department's Chief Director of Radio Astronomy Advances, Dr Tshepo Seekoe said awareness of the project needed to be boosted among the youth because they are future beneficiaries of the astronomy and space programme.

"We are engaging the youth of South Africa to assist in bringing this project to Africa. By entering the competition in droves, learners will send a clear message to the decision makers that Africa's time has certainly come for large research infrastructure development too," said Seekoe.

Apart from the advantage to South Africa's space development programme, the SKA will also benefit tourism with visitors streaming to see the spectacular core site.

South Africa is currently building a precursor instrument near the site proposed for the SKA. The Karoo Array Telescope (MeerKAT), which will consist of approximately 64 dishes, will be among the largest and most powerful telescopes in the world in its own right, and will develop technologies needed for the SKA.

Competition entry forms can be downloaded from the SAASTA, the South African SKA Project Office (SASPO) and Department of Science and Technology websites (, and

They will also be available at secondary schools and science centres across the country.
Entries marked "MeerKAT-SKA Schools Competition" may be posted to PO Box 1758, Pretoria, 0001, or delivered to SAASTA, Didacta Building, 211 Skinner Street, Pretoria. The competition closes on 31 October.