A RADIO TELESCOPE IN THE LAND OF ANCIENT ASTRONOMERS
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.