This year has seen the return of SARAO’s hosting of the Big Data Africa School after a pause of more than three years due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The 4th Big Data Africa School was funded by the UK Newton Fund under the Development in Africa with Radio Astronomy (DARA) Big Data project.

This year’s school hosted 25 participants in Cape Town from 5 to 11 March 2023, with participants hailing from diverse regions in Africa. The participants ranged in age between 19 and 39 years of age with 7 Doctoral degree students, 10 Masters degree students and 8 Bachelor of Science (Honours) / Engineering students. The countries represented at the 4th Big Data Africa School are South Africa, Namibia, Madagascar, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Zambia, Malawi, Lesotho, Ghana, Morocco, Kenya, Algeria, Ethiopia and Uganda.

The aim of the Big Data Africa School is to introduce fundamental data science tools and techniques to science and engineering graduates at various academic levels of their studies. Apart from introductory lectures in data science, the focus of the school is on students getting hands-on experience by working on real-life data sets which forms a large component of the school’s programme.

The thematic area for the 4th Big Data Africa School was selected as healthcare / biomedical imaging with SARAO joining forces with experts in this area from partnering institutions IBM Research Africa, University of Barcelona, Namibia University of Science & Technology (NUST), African Network for Artificial Intelligence in Biomedical Imaging (AFRICAI), University of Basel and the University of Cape Town (UCT), who provided the relevant projects and data sets, as well as the mentors who worked continuously with groups of participants throughout the week. Partner, the Inter-University Institute for Data Intensive Astronomy (IDIA) provided the Cloud infrastructure and computational resources needed for carrying out the projects.

This year’s school offered a range of exciting projects in the healthcare domain, which included detecting of out of distribution samples in healthcare: Malaria as a use case (IBM Research Africa); 3D Vertebrae reconstruction from 2D X-ray imaging (University of Basel, UCT); Explainable AI of medical images using SHAP and LIME (NUST); Combating data scarcity in medical imaging – using AI to generate synthetic images using breast mammograms as a use case (University of Barcelona); and the application of deep learning techniques to automate the process of cardiac disease diagnosis which can be generalised across different clinical centres, imaging conditions and scanner vendors (University of Barcelona).

Carla Sharpe, SARAO Africa Programme Manager, said at the welcoming ceremony: “I am always blown away at how these young people use their very advanced skills and brilliant minds and solve really basic on-the-ground problems. It really moves me and sticks in my mind.”

Invited speakers at this year’s school included Prof. Yves Wiaux from Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh who serves as the Head of the Biomedical and Astronomical Signal Processing (BASP) Group. Prof. Wiaux’s presentation focused on data calibration techniques used in radio astronomy imaging which can be applied to medical imaging, drawing synergies between the radio astronomy and biomedical imaging communities. His presentation was complemented by invited guest speaker, Prof. Tinashe Mutsvangwa, from UCT who presented on 3D bone reconstruction from 2D X-ray images. Prof. Mutsvangwa also gave an overview of the South African environment for his work and its challenges within an African setting.

The participants were given guidance in formulating their final presentations by Mark Johnson from SARAO’s Commercialisation unit. Johnson undertook the “Skills for Industry” component of the school giving participants insight to formulating a pitch for a panel of potential funders and how to view their projects as a potential business. These sessions with invaluable insight from SARAO’s Commercialisation unit were offered to students in the evenings in preparation of their final presentations.

Another important activity at this year’s school included the celebration of International Women’s Day on Wednesday, 8 March 2023. “It is the first time we are running the Big Data Africa School with a predominantly female majority,” commented Dr Bonita de Swardt, Programme Manager: Strategic Partnerships for Human Capital Development at SARAO. The women participants at this year’s school comprised 18 out of the 25 participants, making over 70% of participants female. De Swardt further added: “It will be interesting to observe the team and overall dynamics of participants in an environment not commonly seen in STEM. We will continue to strive including women and girls in our initiatives to ensure that they are not left behind in the digital revolution.”

Participants were treated with a cake that celebrated the anniversary of the publication of SARAO’s Women in Data Science report and its achievement in attaining the first school with an apparent gender equity. In addition, the in-country Director for Women in Tech South Africa, Melissa Slaymaker, joined participants on Friday, 10 March 2023 as part of the week’s Women’s Day celebrations. Slaymaker presented the work being carried out by Women in Tech in Africa and globally, and informed participants how they can become part of the network of women making a difference in access and participation in STEM activities.

The final group presentations were held on Friday, 10 March 2023, which was followed by a social networking evening and prize-giving dinner. The panel of judges included Dr Nikhita Madhanpall (OAD), Prof. Karim Lekadir (University of Barcelona), Prof. Wiaux, Prof. Mutsvangwa, Nathi Ndlovu (CSIR), Johnson and Sharpe.

The group and individual prizes were announced in the evening with the OOD Red Star team (out of distribution samples in healthcare: Malaria as a use case) taking first place, followed by the Golden GANS (Combating data scarcity in medical imaging – using AI to generate synthetic images using breast mammograms as a use case) being runners up.

Individual prizes went to Refiloe Shabe from Lesotho for showing the best team leadership; Rancy Chepchirchir from Kenya for showing the most progression during the week of the school; and Emmanuel Hansingo from Zambia for embodying the ‘spirit of the school’.

The prize-giving dinner was attended by Chris Austin, Development Director at the British High Commission in Pretoria, who added “There is no right way or wrong way to approach problems, but the collective way, thinking about what evidence there is, what data there is and what you can do with it is super exciting. It is fantastic to hear what you have been working on through this programme, bringing some clever people together from all over Africa. The UK government has been delighted to support the DARA programme over several years and I hope that this legacy will continue”.

“What makes running these schools successfully is great partnerships” adds De Swardt. “It is fantastic that SARAO, a radio astronomy observatory, can host these skills training events in scientific areas that are broader than our mandate as an organisation. Thank you to all our partnering institutions for their commitment to these programmes.”

The final day of the school involved a scenic tour of the Cape Peninsula where participants got to see some of Cape Town’s iconic marine life and landscape such as the African penguins, Cape Point Nature Reserve and seal island.

4th Big Data Africa School participant, Maziko Mphepo from Malawi, provided his thoughts on the school from the perspective of a student: “From the informative and engaging sessions to the well-planned social activities, everything was flawlessly executed. I particularly enjoyed the opportunity to connect with other like-minded individuals and learn from industry experts in such an immersive and inspiring environment.

I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to attend this year’s school and gain new skills and knowledge in my field of interest. The efforts and hard work SARAO and its partners have made a significant impact on my personal and professional development, and I cannot thank you enough.

I truly appreciate SARAO’s hard work and commitment to providing a top-notch educational experience. I am grateful for the opportunity to have been a part of this program, and I’m sure that all the students share my sentiments.”

Are you interested in astronomy and the exploration of the universe? Do you want to learn more about the South African Radio Astronomy Observatory (SARAO) and its fascinating initiatives? If so, we invite you to share your experience and thoughts by reviewing SARAO on Google!

SARAO, a facility of the National Research Foundation, is responsible for managing all radio astronomy initiatives and facilities in South Africa. Its flagship project, the MeerKAT Radio Telescope in the Karoo, has made significant contributions to the global scientific community, including the discovery of rare and exciting phenomena in the universe.

As a SARAO user or enthusiast, you can help promote and support the organization by sharing your honest opinions and feedback through a Google review. Your review can provide valuable insights for potential visitors, partners, and researchers who are interested in SARAO’s work and facilities.

Writing a review is easy and takes only a few minutes. Just follow these simple steps:

  1. Go to Google and search for “South African Radio Astronomy Observatory.”
  2. Click on the “Write a review” button on the right side of the page.
  3. Sign in to your Google account or create a new one.
  4. Rate SARAO by selecting the number of stars you want to give, from 1 to 5.
  5. Write a detailed review, including your experience, thoughts, and suggestions.
  6. Submit your review and share it with the world!

Your review can make a big difference for SARAO and its mission to advance radio astronomy research in South Africa and beyond. So, whether you had a positive or negative experience, we encourage you to share it with us and help us improve our services and facilities.

Thank you for your support, and we look forward to reading your reviews!

The South African Radio Astronomy Observatory (SARAO) announces an opportunity to apply for observing time on the MeerKAT telescope.

A minimum of 1,750 hours of telescope time will be awarded through this opportunity. Novel proposal types and observing capabilities are offered in this Call.

MeerKAT consists of 64 dishes with superb sensitivity on baselines of up to 8 km. This Call offers continuum, spectral line, and pulsar/fast transient capabilities employing the UHF (580-1015 MHz), L- (900-1670 MHz), and S-band (1.75-3.5 GHz) receivers.

Instructions, documentation, and the tools required to prepare and submit proposals are available on the MeerKAT Knowledge Base. Proposals are due no later than 12:00 UTC on Tuesday, 3 May 2023.

The HCD schools program held a training as well as the World Robot Olympiad Northern Cape Provincial 2023 Season Launch on the 3-4 March 2023, hosted at Carnarvon High School, Carnarvon, Northern Cape. The aim of the training is to practically equip educators in robotics and to teach the basics of robotics in education (programming and technology at large) in terms of knowledge, skills, and values.

On the launch, it was to share necessary information regarding to the World Robot Olympiad competition and the preparation to participate in the competition. Schools, institutions as well as SARAO staff, that participated in the training were from:

1. Kimberley: Sol Plaatje University
2. Brandvlei: Brandvlei High & Brandvlei Primary
3. Fraserburg: Malherbe Human Intermediate
4. Williston: Nico Bekker Primary & Williston High
5. Van Wyksvlei: Van Wyksvlei Intermediate
6. Loxton: JJ Booysen Primary
7. Carnarvon: Carnarvon High & Carnarvon Primary
8. Secunda: Osizweni Sasol

SARAO/SKA Staff that are usually referees at the competition (Mechanical Engineering team, Stakeholder team, Telescope Maintenance team, IT team, Human Capital Development)

The South African Radio Astronomy Observatory (SARAO) has recently announced the availability of new Request for Quotations (RFQs) on its website. These RFQs are for the procurement of various goods and services required by the organization to support its ongoing projects and initiatives.

SARAO is a world-class radio astronomy facility that operates telescopes and other equipment across the African continent. The organization is committed to advancing scientific knowledge and understanding through the study of the universe and its phenomena. To achieve its mission, SARAO works closely with international partners, including the Square Kilometer Array (SKA) project, which aims to build the world’s largest radio telescope.

Click here to view available request for quotations

Click here to download supplier database documents

The South African Radio Astronomy Observatory (SARAO) is pleased to announce the availability of several scholarships and postdoctoral fellowships for the year 2024. SARAO is a leading research institution that plays a critical role in advancing radio astronomy in South Africa and beyond. These opportunities are available to highly motivated individuals who are keen to advance their research careers in radio astronomy.

Click here to view available Scholarships and Postdoctoral Fellowships

The 19th biennial International Conference on Accelerator and Large Experimental Physics Control Systems (ICALEPCS) 2023 will be held from Monday, 9 October to Friday, 13 October 2023.

Hosted by the South African Radio Astronomy Observatory (SARAO), the conference will be preceded by workshops on Saturday, 7 October and Sunday, 8 October 2023 in Cape Town, South Africa.

ICALEPCS ( is a series of biennial conferences that rotates between three major areas of the world: America (including North, Central and South America), Asia (including Oceania) and EMEA (Europe including Russia, the Middle East and Africa). It is well established as the largest conference dedicated to control systems for accelerators and large experiments in physics. ICALEPCS 2023 will be the first time that the conference is hosted in Africa.

The conference will be held in-person again after a fully remote conference in 2021. Conference attendees are strongly encouraged to attend in person to profit from the opportunity to meet again after the pandemic. Early bird registrations are now open at

Abstract submissions are currently open and close on Sunday, 30 April 2023.

The instructions on how to submit abstracts are detailed in the conference website at

The direct link to the JACoW SPMS for the abstract submission is

All those with an interest in the field of control and data acquisition systems and following the latest trends related to hardware, software and information technology in general in large experimental physics systems, including particle accelerators and detectors, photon and neutron sources, telescopes, nuclear fusion facilities, high power laser facilities, and other control applications in science and industry, are invited to submit contributions for presentation at the conference.

This year’s conference holds a priceless moment in history since it is the first time that it is being hosted in Africa since its inception. For some it also presents a nostalgic feeling, being able to travel again after a period of uncertainty on resumption of collocated meetings.

As such, this conference offers a fresh start and we get to meet again in person to discuss innovations and fashion collaborations from the various meetings.

In recent decades several instruments have come online to conduct different experiments to test and enable us to glean more insight into theories and improve our understanding of the Universe at large. The MeerKAT dishes in South Africa make a star appearance, contributing towards this goal of ground-breaking science, with its highly sensitive receivers for radio wave observations.

The need for equally matching control system software in scale and performance cannot be emphasised enough with the arrival of these powerful instruments. This sets the stage to introduce the theme for this year’s conference as Accelerating Control Systems Software for Groundbreaking Science. As we share our improvements and advances in our work with the community, we have a unique learning opportunity to be equipped to produce novel work and support the effort to churn out ground-breaking scientific work.

Visitors will find Cape Town a vibrant, trendy, sophisticated, well connected and stunningly attractive city. Indeed South Africa’s top six tourist attractions are within an hour from the city centre. Cape Town has a history of hosting big events and accommodating large numbers of international guests in world class facilities. South Africa is a multicultural destination with a rich history and a unique peaceful, political transformation.

In our country there is a heady, exciting mix of tourist and entertainment possibilities. With a distinctive African footprint, a unique fauna and flora in a dramatically beautiful physical environment, you will be well advised to extend your stay beyond the conference to explore our country and our continent.

We are confident that the scientific programme will be very informative and stimulating, the social activities will promote lasting friendships and that the conference tours will give you the opportunity to explore our wonderful country.

We look forward to welcoming you to Cape Town!


The MeerKAT radio telescope produces magnificent images

A High Performance Computing (HPC) system underpins the telescope. These systems provide state of the art performance at a particularly aggressive price point, providing innovative technology solutions.

SARAO is actively seeking partners and commercialisation opportunities within the HPC space, and is well positioned to offer transformative technologies at hitherto unachievable price points.


The following provides some insight into the current and near-term SARAO HPC product portfolio.


Data Storage System – High Capacity (DSS-HC): As deployed in the MeerKAT science archive, this low cost, high capacity storage appliance is designed and manufactured in South Africa and offers significant cost saving over other commercially available solutions. It can also be customized for different applications. Combined with the high performance object storage software layer, large-scale turnkey deployments typically see a two to three times saving over a five year total cost of ownership compared to vendor solutions.

CEPH: CEPH is the software layer that underpins the massive storage deployed in the MeerKAT science archive. A large ecosystem of internally developed products complement the core CEPH architecture to provide a user friendly, easy to maintain solution to Peta-scale storage requirements.

Cascade (in development): Leveraging DSS-HC, Data Storage System – High Speed (DSS-HS) (all flash storage appliance) and the in-development tape library, we plan a fully tiered storage system from memory through to tape that will offer industry leading performance.


IronHive (in development): A ruggedised, embedded computer system based microserver that provides exceptional energy efficiency, avoids the need for expensive data center infrastructure, and provides substantial in-band storage. The market for ruggedised designs is almost completely unserviced at this point, and an ecosystem of ruggedised compute and storage, able to operate in harsh environments, has enormous potential, particularly in the African context.

Efficient Design: Even without radical designs such as IronHive, there is much room for improvement in traditional HPC deployments. Our experience in architecting extremely cost effective and fit for purpose systems, provides a substantial competitive advantage and is a core focus of the systems integration offering.


Tape Library (in development): The last five years has seen a significant resurgence in tape as a cold, energy efficient medium for bulk data storage. Unfortunately many of the benefits of tapes are lost due to the high pricing for the robotised tape libraries and the cost of ongoing licenses. SARAO is well underway with an in-house tape library system, utilising off-the-shelf tape drives, that will realise five to ten times cost savings over a five year ownership period.


Platform Software (existing and in development): In addition to the basic software required to deliver a computer or storage system, there is a multitude of additional services that provide value to the customer. These include monitoring, logging, dashboards, schedulers and resource management. Again, SARAO has a significant catalogue of software products in this realm, and substantial experience to deploy and develop new products.

Applications (ongoing): The group is able to provide software consultancy, for co-design between user application and the delivered hardware to deliver exceptional efficiencies. In these situations we would provide software development effort to port applications and optimise code to suit the target platform.

For more information, contact:
SARAO Head: Engineering

While using the MeerKAT radio telescope to study a distant galaxy towards PKS 1830-211, scientists discovered something unexpected: gas clouds made up of some of the largest hydrogen atoms in the universe, Rydberg atoms. It is the first time scientists observed these hydrogen atoms in a distant galaxy. What’s more, they believe the large atoms are spread throughout the galaxy in ionized interstellar gas clouds. The discovery could help researchers to understand the nature and evolution of interstellar gas in galaxies and how Rydberg atoms are formed in space. An article reporting this discovery was recently published in the Astrophysical Journal (link).

Located in the constellation Sagittarius, PKS1830-211 is a very distant quasar 11.1 billion light years away (redshift 2.5). However, it is one of the brightest radio sources in the sky since the high-power jet from its super massive black hole is pointed directly at Earth. PKS 1830-211 is a hot spot for studying astrochemistry in the universe. The light from PKS 1830-211 passes through a foreground galaxy 7.3 billion light years distant (redshift 0.89) on its way to Earth, illuminating molecular chemistry in the spiral arms of the foreground galaxy. This rare alignment has allowed the large Hydrogen atoms to be observed.

A Rydberg atom refers to an atom with an electron in a high energy state. Radio light amplifies the Rydberg atoms. Under just the right conditions, the atoms become naturally occurring lasers, and light becomes brighter at the radio wavelengths emitted by the atoms. Finding just the right conditions for this to occur in distant galaxies has been a long standing mystery. But next-generation radio telescopes observing the Universe at cm to meter wavelengths are making it possible for the first time.

The South African MeerKAT radio telescope is currently the most sensitive radio telescope observing at these wavelengths. Large surveys that cover the sky using wide bandwidth receivers have high enough precision to look for spectral fingerprints from many wavelengths simultaneously. The MeerKAT Absorption Line Survey (MALS; is one such survey which observes at 18 to 52 cm wavelengths. Because MALS is targeting the brightest radio sources in the sky, it is currently the most sensitive survey for detecting absorption signatures from hydrogen atoms (in the ground state) and molecules like OH – and unexpectedly, also the large Rydberg atoms.

Using the MALS survey, scientists found 44 fingerprints from Rydberg atoms. “We used hydrogen Rydberg atoms to study the physical and dynamic structures in a galaxy 7.3 billion light years away towards PKS 1830-211. The Rydberg atoms could be coming from large clouds of gas that are ionized by the radiation from young massive stars. These atoms tell us that interstellar gas in this galaxy is much more dense than what is found in the Milky Way,” says Kimberly Emig, a Jansky Fellow at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) of USA and lead author of the paper.

Scientists hope to discover more of these oddball atoms. Emig explains, “We were excited to discover these high-excitation hydrogen atoms in such a distant galaxy. It gives a new way to observe our Universe and possibly study the evolution of interstellar gas in galaxies over cosmic time. They could also help us to understand how interstellar gas drives and inhibits the activity of super massive black holes.”

PKS 1830-211 was the first target of MALS. Its observations helped to characterize the performance of the new MeerKAT telescope.  The large volumes of MALS data (1.6 petabytes) are processed using an automated pipeline utilizing the task and tools based on the Common Astronomy Software Applications (CASA) package of NRAO, at a dedicated high performance computing facility setup at the Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics (IUCAA), India.

The MALS survey primarily uses a transition of atomic hydrogen at 21 cm wavelengths and transitions from the hydroxyl (OH) molecule at 18 cm wavelengths in order to determine the occurrence of atomic and molecular gas in and around galaxies. “Only a small number of these transitions have been detected in distant galaxies so far due to technical limitations. If we detect a large number (several 100) of these transitions then we can assess the physical conditions of cold gas which serves as fuel for star formation in galaxies. Studying ionized gas through hydrogen Rydberg atoms is highly complementary to studying interstellar gas in its atomic and molecular phases and would help us to explain the changes in the properties of galaxies at different ages of the Universe,” explains Neeraj Gupta, astronomer at IUCAA  and lead investigator of the MALS project.

Making this discovery has been a team effort. The South African Radio Astronomy Observatory operates the MeerKAT telescope. An international collaboration from India, Europe, South Africa, North America, and Australia carries out the MeerKAT Absorption Line Survey. Data from the observations is processed through tools of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics, and Thoughtworks Technologies India Pvt Ltd, among others.

Notes to Editors:

The scientific results of this study are published in:

Discovery of Hydrogen Radio Recombination Lines at z=0.89 towards PKS 1830-211 Kimberly L. Emig, Neeraj Gupta, Pedro Salas, Sebastien Muller, Sergei A. Balashev, Francoise Combes, Emmanuel Momjian, Yiqing Song, Preshanth Jagannathan, Partha P. Deka, Gyula I. G. Jozsa, Hans-Rainer Klockner, Abhisek Mohapatra, Pasquier Noterdaeme, Patrick Petitjean, Raghunathan Srianand, Jonah D. Wagenveld, 2023, accepted for publication in the Astrophysical Journal


The South African MeerKAT radio telescope, situated 90 km outside the small Northern Cape town of Carnarvon, is a precursor to the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) telescope and will be integrated into the mid-frequency component of SKA Phase 1. The MeerKAT telescope is an array of 64 interlinked receptors (a receptor is the complete antenna structure, with the main reflector, sub-reflector and all receivers, digitizers and other electronics installed).


MALS is the MeerKAT Absorption Line Survey. MALS consists of 1655 hrs of MeerKAT time (anticipated raw data ~ 1.7 PB) to carry out the most sensitive search of HI and OH absorption lines at 0 < z < 2, the redshift range over which most of the cosmic evolution in the star formation rate density takes place. The MALS survey is described in Gupta et al. (2016).

Key Science Themes of MALS:

  1. Evolution of atomic and molecular gas in galaxies and relationship with star formation rate density
  2. Fuelling of active galactic nucleus (AGN), AGN feedback and dust-obscured AGNs
  3. Variation of fundamental constants of physics
  4. Evolution of magnetic fields in galaxies, and
  5. Physical modeling of the ISM, Astrochemistry and Cosmology.

Attention all fellow space enthusiasts and radio astronomy fans!

We would like to extend a warm invitation for you to follow our Facebook page. Our page is a hub for all things related to radio astronomy and the latest developments in the field.

As a leader in the industry, we are dedicated to sharing the latest advancements and exciting discoveries with our followers. Whether you are a professional astronomer, a student, or just have a passion for the cosmos, our page is the perfect place for you to stay informed and connected.

We regularly post updates on the MeerKAT radio telescope and other observatories, as well as the latest scientific results and findings. You will also have access to behind-the-scenes photos and videos, as well as insights into the work that we do.

In addition to our commitment to sharing the latest news, we also value engagement with our followers. Our page is a platform for discussion and exchange of ideas, and we encourage you to share your thoughts and opinions with us.

So if you’re looking for a place to stay up-to-date on the latest developments in radio astronomy and connect with like-minded individuals, be sure to follow our company Facebook page. We look forward to seeing you there!

Click here to view our Facebook page