SKA

A RA­DIO TELE­SCOPE IN THE LAND OF AN­CIENT ASTRONOMERS

Nomad Africa Magazine - - Specialfeature | Ska - Words & Pho­to­graphs: ALESSAN­DRO PARODI

The South African sec­tion of the Square Kilo­me­tre Ar­ray Tele­scope (KAT) is un­der construction in the semi-desert re­gion of the Ka­roo, in Souh Africa. The land was in­hab­ited by Bush­men tribes, since time im­memo­rial; an an­cient tribe who used astron­omy to nav­i­gate the vast Coun­try, in their no­madic life­style. Bush­men still oc­cupy parts of South­ern Africa, while they are now mostly scat­tered across Namibia and Botswana. In mod­ern times, look­ing at the sky has ac­quired a new sig­nif­i­cance, thanks to the im­proved ap­pli­ca­tions of ra­dio tele­scopy.

an ideal po­si­tion in the south­ern hemi­sphere, for the KAT in­stal­la­tion: the wide prairies, dry cli­mate and clear skies are the per­fect col­lo­ca­tion among the flat top hillocks of the Ka­ree Moun­tains of the North­ern Cape, in South Africa, with very lit­tle hu­man in­ter­fer­ence from the small vil­lage of Carnar­von close by, 560 kilo­me­tres from Cape Town. These are the in­gre­di­ents for suc­cess where a sig­nif­i­cant por­tion of SKA will be built. The SKA (acro­nym for Square Kilo­me­tre Ar­ray) tele­scope is an in­ter­na­tional pro­ject that was started in 1991.

South Africa and Aus­tralia were cho­sen for their to­pograpy and lo­ca­tion, af­ter which fol­lowed the construction of the Ka­roo Ar­ray Tele­scope (KAT), and the vastly in­creased num­ber of units, col­lec­tively called MeerKAT (MoreKat), presently still un­der construction, which will be in­cor­po­rated into the SKA. The 1st phase should be com­pleted by 2024, and the 2nd by 2030, The core of SKA is split be­tween South Africa and Aus­tralia, in Carnar­von (RSA) and Boolardy (AUS). Eight part­ner coun­tries around the African con­ti­nent will also have ra­dio tele­scopes to pro­vide the global net­work of re­searchers with the world’s most ad­vanced ra­dio astron­omy ar­ray.The po­ten­tial and im­por­tance of the pro­ject are best ex­plained in the words of Lorenzo Ray­nard of SKA South Africa: “The ap­pli­ca­tions of ra­dio astron­omy in ev­ery­day life are be­yond any ex­pec­ta­tion. Tech­no­log­i­cal de­vel­op­ments in com­mu­ni­ca­tion and imag­ing that were de­rived from ra­dio astron­omy is now be­ing used in fields such as medicine, se­cu­rity scan­ning meth­ods and as­sess­ment of stru­tu­ral weak­nesses in build­ing, to name a few”. If the astronomers, once, had to look at the galaxy to un­der­stand it, sci­en­tific re­search has now shifted to the anal­y­sis of cor­re­la­tions be­tween as­tral bod­ies.

The study of ra­dio waves, started in 1930 by Karl Jan­sky, aims to de­scribe the re­la­tions be­tween as­tral ob­jects. Analysing the forces that op­er­ate be­tween a known body and an un­known one, it will be pos­si­ble to un­der­stand the lat­ter. Ra­dio ob­ser­va­tion might be­come a mean­ing­ful tool in the re­search on black holes and dark mat­ter, which can­not be seen with tele­scopes. In fact, the ex­is­tence of dark mat­ter was first pos­tu­lated by Jan Oort, a ra­dio as­tronomer.

The same tech­nol­ogy and heuris­tic process can have nu­mer­ous ap­pli­ca­tions, some of which are sur­pris­ing in their ef­fec­tive­ness. “What these tech­niques will help us un­der­stand is how to deal with and make mean­ing of large vol­umes of data or Big Data”, fur­thers Ray­nard. “Ef­fec­tively analysing data that is be­ing gen­er­ated and col­lected glob­ally all the time holds the prom­ise of de­vel­op­ing new ap­pli­ca­tions that could po­ten­tially lead to smart cities, im­proved health care fa­cil­i­ties and new mar­kets”. The use of the same tech­nolo­gies, to­day, can help the Na­tional Parks to iden­tify the shot of a gun and lo­cate poach­ers.

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