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Posts Tagged ‘MeerKAT’

An unofficial SKA update

A couple of weeks ago, I was invited by the excellent Christina Scott to take part in her weekly radio show ‘Science Matters’. The main item of news that was going to be covered was the official signing of the agreement between the South African government and the International Astronomical Union to host the IAU’s Office for Astronomy Development and I was there as a foreign researcher, having just landed in the country.

Having just arrived, I wanted to brush up on the status of various projects that are funding my position in case the journalist asked me about them. I had long phone conversations with Kim de Boer, manager of the the SKA Human Capacity Development programme and Prof. Justin Jonas, Associate Director for Science and Engineering in the SKA South Africa Project Office.

As it turns out I wasn’t asked about SKA during the radio show: the main news was the astronomy development office. But since I got this great update, I thought I’d share a bit about the status of the SKA and MeerKAT projects in this country, because what is happening here is really cool.

First thing: there is way more to the South African SKA project than just the bid to host it.

There is a wealth of investment in people and when you invest in people, you don’t add up assets, you multiply them. And with MeerKAT well under way, cutting edge science and technology are already happening.

So what is happening with the telescopes?

© SKA South Africa

First, there was KAT-7, the Karoo Array Telescope, a 7-dish array that was proposed as a prototype to the SKA. Quickly, this was complemented by MeerKAT, aka more of KAT, which would consist of 80 such dishes.

Well guess what, KAT-7 is being commissioned as I write this. 7 dishes are built, 4 are operating as an interferometer already. All of it on budget, on specs – and ahead of schedule.

There is also C-BASS, installed and operating. Members of the scientific collaboration from South Africa, the U.S. and the U.K look forward to the full-sky temperature and polarization map at 5GHz that will help extract CMB signal from other experiments and observe the synchrotron radiation from relativistic electrons in the galaxy.

What about MeerKAT?

MeerKAT prototype dish at HartRAO in 2007 (Wikipedia)

MeerKat has undergone a ‘concept design review‘, during which international teams and experts come to evaluate the idea. This has all gone swimmingly with positive comments and useful input.

Now, the project is going through the ‘design review process‘, which basically turns the science goals into technical requirements, which then get translated into concrete choices of appropriate technologies and if all goes well, the selected technology should deliver the science.

While the design is being finalised, there are some things that can already be installed, and the team are not wasting any time. The telescopes will need solid foundations in the ground and excellent data connections to transfer the observations to the computers that are going to process them. Those are in an advanced planning stage.

Exciting times! The teams involved are working very hard on this, and on everything at once. Sometimes I wish I could be a fly seeing it all happen…

The Human Capacity Programme of the SKA project is well worth its own blog post and being one of its postdocs, I look forward to meeting SKA scientists and students at the next SKA Postgraduate Bursary conference where everyone will get together.