Africa’s SKA telescope to shed light on the’dark ages’

Saturday, February 19, 2011

WASHINGTON - With significant scientific breakthroughs, Africa’s bid to build the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) telescope - which will for the first time provide mankind with detailed pictures of the ‘dark ages’ 13.7 billion years back in time - is gaining momentum.

An important milestone was reached with the ‘detection of fringes’ in a joint very long baseline interferometry (VLBI) observation. For the first time South Africa has completed the experiment without assistance from other countries.

The 26m Hartebeesthoek Radio Astronomy Observatory (HartRAO) near Pretoria teamed up with one of the seven 12m dishes currently part of the Karoo Array Telescope (KAT-7) over 900 km away to jointly observe and record data from a distant radio source known as 3C273.

The data was then correlated in Cape Town to produce the first ever African fringe detection at its first attempt.

“VLBI is significant as it’s used for imaging distant cosmic radio sources, spacecraft tracking, and for applications in astrometry. However, it can also be used ‘in reverse’ to perform earth rotation studies, map movements of tectonic plates very precisely (within millimetres), and other types of geodesy,” said Bernie Fanaroff, of the South Africa SKA Project.

In addition to the fringe detection breakthrough, South African engineers have also built the building block for the next generation of digital processing systems.

The reconfigurable open architecture computing hardware (ROACH) board is primarily a South African development and already in use in 300 high-tech facilities around the globe. However, ROACH-2 prototypes are much faster and more powerful.

“SKA will revolutionise science. It will be the world’s largest radio telescope and probably capable of answering questions that we haven’t even thought to ask yet,” said Fanaroff.

Expected scientific discoveries range from understanding the cosmic web of neutral gas, which will unravel how the first stars and black holes were formed. (ANI)

Filed under: Science and Technology

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