Newsletter for the South African Radio Astronomy Observatories
Newsletter for the South African Radio Astronomy Observatories
The South African Radio Astronomy Observatory (SARAO) spearheads South Africa’s activities in the Square Kilometre Array Radio Telescope, commonly known as the SKA, in engineering, science and construction. SARAO is a National Facility managed by the National Research Foundation and incorporates radio astronomy instruments and programmes such as the MeerKAT and KAT-7 telescopes in the Karoo, the Hartebeesthoek Radio Astronomy Observatory (HartRAO) in the North West province, the African Very Long Baseline Interferometry (AVN) programme in nine African countries as well as the associated human capital development and commercialisation endeavours.
Deputy President of the Republic of South Africa, Mr David Mabuza, officially inaugurated the MeerKAT radio telescope on Friday, 13 July 2018. After a decade in design and construction, this project of South Africa’s Department of Science and Technology has now begun science operations. At the launch event, a panorama obtained with the new telescope was unveiled that reveals extraordinary detail in the region surrounding the supermassive black hole at the centre of our Milky Way Galaxy. This is one of several very exciting new views of the Universe already observed by the telescope.
The South African Radio Astronomy Observatory (SARAO) celebrates after the SKA Telescope Manager Critical Design Review has been completed.
SARAO made a significant contribution to the Telescope Manager consortium, which is one of 12 engineering consortia representing 500 engineers in 20 countries building the SKA Observatory and Telescopes. Nine of the consortia focused on a component of the telescope, each critical to the overall success of the project, while three others focused on developing advanced instrumentation for the telescope. The Telescope Manager consortium was itself comprised of nine institutions in seven countries.
The International Astronomical Union (IAU) announced that the 32nd General Assembly of the IAU in 2024 will be hosted by Cape Town, South Africa. This will be the first time in the 105 year history of the IAU that the General Assembly will be held on the African continent. The award recognises the incredible strides that African astronomy has taken in recent years.
Radio astronomy in South Africa featured prominently when the President of the Republic of South Africa, His Excellency Mr Cyril Ramaphosa, hosted the President of the People’s Republic of China, His Excellency Mr Xi Jinping, on a State Visit to South Africa.
Former Minister of Science and Technology, Naledi Pandor, opened the new road from Carnarvon to the SKA Losberg site, followed by an Imbizo and public participation programme with SKA SA and the communities of Carnarvon, Williston, Vosburg, Brandvlei, Loxton, Calvinia and Van Wyksvlei on Saturday, 18 November 2017.
Members of the United States of America Embassy in Pretoria accompanied by SARAO, Department of Science and Technology; and SANParks senior officials, visited the SKA site at Losberg in the Karoo in February 2018.
A delegation of the European Union (EU), accompanied by a delegation of the South African Department of Science and Technology (DST), visited the SARAO Cape Town office on Friday, 9 February 2018.
The first cohort of Northern Cape matrics who are sponsored by SARAO for university studies, have completed their second year successfully.
The five students, Janethon de Klerk, Kyle Henderson, Cedwill Abdol, Anver Adams and Bradley Bosman, have all progressed to their third year of studies at tertiary institutions around the country.
In 2017 SARAO added new beneficiaries of bursaries for university studies to its cohort. Robyn Ford and Nigel Maans, currently in their second year of tertiary studies, are studying towards BSc degrees in Computer Information Systems and Data Science respectively.
Nineteen students graduated from the third African Very Long Baseline Interferometry Network training held at the Hartebeesthoek Radio Astronomy Observatory during March 2018.
The students, all hailing from Botswana, Zambia and Namibia, participated in the training which took place from 26 February to 23 March 2018.
SARAO completed the acquisition of land for the SKA Land Core in the last quarter of 2017. The Astronomy Geographic Area Advantage Act, Act No. 21 of 2007 provides for the preservation and protection of declared areas in South Africa for radio and optical astronomy which includes the SKA site.
On Friday, 25 May – Africa Day 2018, a new telescope was inaugurated at the South African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO) near Sutherland, that will be an “eye of the MeerKAT radio array”, the country’s precursor to the Square Kilometre Array (SKA).
SARAO hosted the Minister of Science and Technology, Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane, members of the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee, members of the Department of Science and Technology; and members of the National Research Foundation during a visit to site at Losberg on Saturday, 19 May 2018.
SARAO hosted Community Information sessions in Williston and Brandvlei in the Northern Cape in June 2018. The Williston meeting took place on Monday, 11 June 2018 and the Brandvlei meeting the following evening.
The Band 1 feed for the SKA arrived on site in South Africa and testing was performed on one of the MeerKAT antennas.
Developed at the Onsala Space Observatory in Sweden, this crucial part of the dish is where the radio signals from space gather after bouncing on the dish before being converted into data that supercomputers can process.
South Africa’s initialling of the SKA Convention and Protocol texts took place in Rome, Italy on Monday, 25 June 2018.
Mpho Ndimande, Counsellor: Political at the South African Embassy signed the SKA Convention and its Protocols on behalf of South Africa.
The International Astronomical Union General Assembly in 2024 (XXXII IAU GA) will be held in Cape Town; the first time that the GA will be hosted on the African continent. The announcement was made at the International Astronomical Union General Assembly held in Vienna, Austria from 20 – 31 August 2018.
SARAO Science Engagement Manager, Anja Fourie, has returned to Cape Town after an eight-week secondment to the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO), USA.
She was seconded to the NRAO as Program Lead for the observatory’s 2018 National and International Non-Traditional Exchange (NINE) Program, which was held at the NRAO Headquarters in Charlottesville, Virginia from 1 June – 31 July 2018.
Dr Bernie Fanaroff, former Project Director of the Square Kilometre Array and currently Special Advisor to the Managing Director, was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award at the NRF Awards 2018 on 26 September 2018, awarded for his extraordinary contribution, of international standard and impact, to the development of science in and for South Africa over an extended period of time.
The South African Radio Astronomy Observatory, through its Hartebeesthoek Radio Astronomy Observatory in Gauteng, has been instrumental in the adoption of the Third realisation of the International Celestial Reference Frame (ICRF-3), adopted at the International Astronomical Union (IAU) General Assembly held in Vienna, Austria last month.
The Chinese Vice Minister for Science and Technology, Dr Xu Nanping, and a delegation visited the SARAO offices in Cape Town on Saturday, 15 September 2018 for a tour of the MeerKAT control room.
The Ministries of Ghana and South Africa announce the combination of ‘first light’ science observations which confirm the successful conversion of the Ghana communications antenna from a redundant telecoms instrument into a functioning Very Long Baseline Interferometry (VLBI) radio telescope.
The nine African countries partnering on the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) and African Very Long Baseline Interferometry Network (AVN) projects are making significant progress.
Breakthrough Listen, the global initiative to seek signs of intelligent life in the Universe – announced today at the International Astronautical Congress the commencement of a major new program with the MeerKAT telescope in partnership with the South African Radio Astronomy Observatory (SARAO).
It is estimated that about 1500 hectares in servitudes in the spirals, will be established altogether in the three spiral arms of the SKA. This includes all infrastructure of existing roads, new roads, optic fibre cable routes, electricity supply, mounting stations and antenna base stations. The process and discussions with the land owners are underway.
Previously it was comprehensively reported on the completed SKA land acquisitions programme. All occupational lease agreements have ended and the land is now under SARAO management. SARAO is currently in discussions with the farmers on the adjacent land to talk about issues of interest to both parties.
The South African Radio Astronomy Observatory (SARAO) Human Capital Development Programme (HCD) was started in 2005 to ensure that a sustainable and demographically representative workforce of highly skilled engineers, scientists, technicians and artisans would be available to build, operate and use the SKA and MeerKAT radio telescope facilities, as well as other local radio astronomy experiments.
EngineerIT published an article on 1 January 2018 titled MeerKAT is making a name for itself with LIGO.
With a few months to go before final commissioning, the MeerKAT telescope is already doing great science. The installation of 64 dishes making up MeerKAT, the precursor to the Square Kilometre Array (SKA), are in place and undergoing final tests.
An article published in The Astrophysical Journal presents the study of a magnetar – a star that is one of the most magnetic objects known in the Universe – that awoke in 2017 from a 3-year slumber. Radio observations that could only be made with MeerKAT, a telescope being built in the Northern Cape province of South Africa, triggered observations with NASA X-ray telescopes orbiting the Earth.
The African VLBI Network (AVN) is an ambitious project by the SARAO team of scientists and engineers to have a Very Long Baseline Interferometer (VLBI) across the African continent. The SKA AVN partners of South Africa are Botswana, Ghana, Kenya, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, and Zambia.
Lerato Sebokolodi doesn’t like being told what to do. This independent thinker nearly left academia for the private sector, until she realised that she would have to dress a certain way, follow instructions and rules, and generally do what other people told her.
When the residents of 15 Karoo towns turned on their televisions on 15 February 2017, they had reason to celebrate the end of the ‘snowstorm’ that was usually present on their screens.
David DeBoer, project manager and designer of the antennas for the Hydrogen Epoch of Reionization Array (HERA) built in the Karoo, was in an elevator when he first learnt that low-frequency radio interferometry could be used to deliver high measurements of redshifted 21 centimetre hydrogen emissions from the early Universe.
The primary goal of PAPER was to detect emission from the neutral gas that pervaded the Universe before the first galaxies and black holes were formed. This ‘epoch of reionization’, as it is called, is the last frontier in observational cosmology.
The first fully assembled SKA dish was unveiled earlier this month in Shijiazhuang, China, by the Vice Minister of the Chinese Ministry of Science and Technology, in the presence of representatives from the countries involved and the SKA Organisation. The dish is one of two final prototypes that will be tested ahead of production of an early array.
In a major milestone for the SKA Project, the 54th Institute of China Electronics Technology Group Corporation (CETC54) has completed the structural assembly of the first SKA dish, bringing together components from China, Germany, and Italy.
A complete prototype station of antennas for the future SKA-low telescope has been completed and is being tested at the SKA site in Western Australia.
A major expansion of the Murchison Widefield Array (MWA), one of four SKA precursor telescopes, has been completed, doubling the number of antenna stations at the remote site in Western Australia.
In a paper published in the journal Nature, a team of US astronomers announced the detection of a signal from the first stars to have emerged in the Universe, about 180 million years after the Big Bang.
In a unanimous decision, the Board of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) Organisation approved the application for membership submitted by the Spanish Government. This makes Spain the eleventh Member of the SKA Organisation.
The SKA Organisation announced the launch of a new platform highlighting the SKA’s key engineering milestones. The interactive infographic will showcase the ongoing Critical Design Reviews (CDRs), which assess the readiness levels of the major elements of the SKA.
Negotiations to agree the international treaty establishing the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) Observatory have formally concluded, opening the door for founding members of the new intergovernmental organisation to sign the treaty.
RD9 Solutions, a company that was established after SKA SA Systems Engineer Tyrone van Balla’s StarBiz project was funded, hosted two Robotics workshops on 21 and 28 October 2017.
The workshops were hosted at South Peninsula High School in Diep River and was open to students in Grades 8 to 11. Twenty-eight keen students attended the workshop over the two weekends.
A colourful circus, lively panel discussion, wacky science exhibits and interactive workshops have set the tone for the run-up to Science Forum South Africa (SFSA) 2017.
This line-up of events formed the first in a series of Department of Science and Technology (DST) Mini Science Forums, which was hosted at the Cape Town Science Centre on 1 November 2017. Other Mini Science Forums will take place around the country leading up to the official SFSA to be held at the CSIR International Convention Centre, Pretoria from 7-8 December 2017.
The Japanese word tsunagari means “connection” and is the spirit in which professionals from science centres and museums around the world met at the Science Centre World Summit (SCWS) 2017 in Tokyo, Japan from 15-17 November 2017.
The South African Radio Astronomy Observatory (SARAO) participated in the third Science Forum South Africa held on 7 and 8 December 2017 at the CSIR International Convention Centre in Pretoria.
SARAO/SKA SA hosted the last in a series of Department of Science and Technology (DST) Mini Science Forums at the McGregor Museum in Kimberley on 1 December 2017.
Mini Science Forums have been hosted around the country by DST entities in the lead up to the official Science Forum South Africa (SFSA) being held at the CSIR International Convention Centre in Pretoria from 7-8 December 2017. The SFSA is an open science event that aims to create a platform for vibrant debate on the role of science, technology, innovation in society in South Africa and Africa. The annual event is proposed by South Africa’s Minister of Science and Technology, Naledi Pandor, and implemented by the DST. For more information visit www.sfsa.co.za.
SARAO participated in Scifest Africa 2018, the annual science festival celebrating its 22nd anniversary from 7 to 13 March 2018 in Grahamstown, Eastern Cape.
Scifest Africa was established by the Grahamstown Foundation in 1996 to promote the public awareness, understanding and appreciation of science, technology and innovation in South Africa.
SARAO and Oculus announced a new partnership in virtual reality for education and science engagement during the official opening of Scifest Africa, South Africa’s national science festival.
The newly appointed Minister of Science and Technology, Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane, was the guest of honour at this event in Grahamstown on Friday, 9 March 2018.
SARAO was awarded Best Workshop: Innovation at Scifest Africa, at South Africa’s national science festival, for a virtual reality workshop co-designed with organisations in the USA.
The workshop, titled An introduction to the world of virtual reality, was co-designed by Jim Adams’ World, the National Institute of Aerospace, USA, North Carolina A&T State University, Oculus and SARAO, and introduced participants to augmented, mixed and virtual reality; the fields of astronomy and space science; and the MeerKAT and SKA site.
Bianca Rhym, an Electrical Engineer from Nasa, visited schools in Sutherland with the aim to inspire and motivate learners about science. The visits took place on 19 and 20 March 2018. The schools visited were Sutherland High School and Sutherland Primary School.
Dr Anton Binneman, SARAO Northern Cape Stakeholder Manager, presented at the Public Communication of Science and Technology Conference which was held in Dunedin, New Zealand from 3-6 April 2018.
Twelve participants graduated from Phase 1 of the pilot NRAO/SARAO Multi-wavelength Public Engagement Programme (MAPPP) National and International Non-Traditional Exchange (NINE), after participants pitched each of their 12 projects to a panel of evaluators and potential funders in Pretoria on Friday, 16 March 2018.
The Multi-wavelength Astronomy Public Participation Programme (MAPPP) was established by SARAO in October 2017 to contribute to the advancement of the public engagement with astronomy, as well as the science engagement sector in South Africa and SKA Africa partner countries, by training high-potential individuals in the sector in project management and using the processes of co-design and co-opetition to develop disruptive public engagement projects.
Nine high-potential science engagement professionals, selected from each of the nine SKA Africa partner countries, met in Fukuoka, Japan from 21-28 March to participate in the first SKA AVN MAPPP NINE Development Lab and the International Astronomical Union (IAU) Communicating Astronomy with the Public (CAP) 2018 Conference.
Best practice developed in the pilot MAPPP NINE programme, the outcomes of the SKA AVN MAPPP NINE Development Lab, as well as the potential use of MAPPP NINE for science diplomacy were co-presented by participants during the Unconference session of CAP 2018.
The South African Radio Astronomy Observatory (SARAO) recently participated in the 8th edition of the EuroScience Open Forum which was held in Toulouse, France from 9-14 July 2018.
SARAO participated in various activities in celebration of National Science Week (NSW) 2018.
NSW, an initiative of the Department of Science and Technology (DST) is a countrywide celebration of science involving various stakeholders and/or role players conducting science-based activities during the week. NSW 2018 was held from 30 July to 4 August 2018.
SARAO has partnered with the South African Association for Science and Technology Advancement (SAASTA) to implement the 2018 National Schools Debates Competition in the Northern Cape and North West in August and September 2018.
The second Big Data Africa School kicked off in Cape Town on 10 September 2018 at Monkey Valley in Noordhoek.
Nearly 30 students from South Africa and the eight other SKA African Partner countries will be participating in the School until 17 September 2018, which is hosted by the SARAO Human Capital Development Programme in partnership with Development in Africa with Radio Astronomy and the Newton Fund.
Four teams from Carnarvon High School was selected to go through to the National Robotics competition to be held on 29 September 2018 at the Tshwane University of Technology.
The teams were selected after competing in the Senior High category of the Northern Cape SKA Robotics Program’s first World Robot Olympiad Northern Cape Provincial Competition at Carnarvon High School on 18 August 2018.
The second Big Data Africa School ended on a high note when the 27 students presented their projects in their respective teams.
The students, who participated in the School from 10 – 17 September 2018 in Cape Town, came from Botswana, Ghana, Kenya, Madagascar, Mauritius, Namibia, South Africa and Zambia.
Several SARAO staff members performed excellently at the annual Greatest Young Systems Engineer of the Year (GYSEOY) challenge, of which the winners are announced at the International Council on Systems Engineering South Africa (INCOSE SA) 2018 conference.
Five electrician trade artisan students and their supervisor received media training in Carnarvon on 31 January and 1 February 2018.
Zwivhuya Ramudzuli, a Junior Engineer in die Digital Backend team at SARAO, won the prize for the Best Poster Presentation at the University of Cape Town’s (UCT) Engineering and the Built Environment Faculty’s (EBE) 2018 Research Expo.
Dr Bonita de Swardt, responsible for Human Capital Development (HCD) Strategic Interventions, including the Young Professionals Development Programme at SARAO, delivered a keynote address on the SKA and the HCD programme at the global Grand Challenges partners meeting.
Jan-Willem Steeb (28), an Electrical Engineering PhD student at the University of Stellenbosch, won the first prize in the International Union of Radio Science (URSI) Atlantic Radio Science Meeting (AT-RASC) student paper competition for his paper and presentation on Mitigation of Non-Narrowband Radio Frequency Interference.
Dr Aletha de Witt, Operations Astronomer at the Hartebeesthoek Radio Astronomy Observatory and coordinator of the AVN training programme, has been elected to the IAU commission on astrometry. Dr De Witt is a former recipient of an SKA bursary through its Human Capital Development Programme.
SARAO Managing Director, Dr Rob Adam, has been inducted as a Fellow of the South African Academy of Engineering (SAAE) at an Induction Dinner on Wednesday, 10 October 2018.
Two bursary funded students, Emily Wallace and Reikantseone Diretse, have been selected to participate in the 2018/19 Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO)/South African Radio Astronomy Observatory (SARAO) Undergraduate Australian Vacation Work Scholarship.
The Managing Director of SARAO, Dr Rob Adam, invited all SARAO staff members to a Staff and Community Engagement event from 9 to 12 August 2018 in Carnarvon.
Staff members had the opportunity to engage on the technical aspects of MeerKAT and with communities in the SARAO Karoo operational area.
Olorato Mosiane, Junior Science Process Developer at SKA SA, won the Thomson Reuters ADSA Data Science Student of the Year Award. The Thomson Reuters Excellence awards have been described as the ultimate form of recognition of the organisation’s customer excellence.
Brendan Swarts is a SARAO Electrical Artisan student, appointed at HartRAO for six months to complete his apprenticeship. He is also part of the group of students studying towards an Electrical Artisan qualification at the SARAO Klerefontein base outside Carnarvon.
Morgan Daba is a SARAO Electrical Artisan student, appointed at HartRAO for six months to complete his apprenticeship. He hails from the Northern Cape and is part of a group of students studying towards an Electrical Artisan qualification at the SARAO Klerefontein base outside Carnarvon.
Marthinus Steyn (24) joined SARAO in January 2018. He originally hails from Upington. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Mathematics and Physics and has an Honours degree in Astronomy.
Knowing the value of hard work and striving for what you want, Steyn also worked at a local garage in Upington as an administration clerk.
Griet Tobias, or Ant Griet as she is affectionately known, joined SARAO last month. She originally hails from Carnarvon where she worked as a housekeeper on the farm Visserskloof.
After the farm was acquired by SARAO, Ant Griet joined the staff at Klerefontein. While in the employ of Visserskloof, she took care of all the daily chores associated with running a household. Ant Griet says even though she misses the farm after working there for nearly 12 years, she enjoys working at SARAO.
Jan Mouers joined SARAO mid-February, after the farm where he was employed, Visserskloof, was acquired by SARAO. He, like his spouse Ant Griet (Tobias), worked on the farm where he fulfilled the duties of a general worker.
These duties included general farm maintenance work, borehole pump repair work, as well as caring for the livestock on the farm.
Before working at Visserskloof, Jan worked as a water pump repairman in Carnarvon, where he hails from.
Mathakane Molewa is a qualified Civil Engineer and building constructor who joined SARAO on 1 December 2017. Before joining, she was a junior foreman at a road construction service.
Before that she completed her internship with the Department of Public Works, and holds a NQF level 4 qualification which she completed at the Capricorn TVET.
She is currently studying towards her National Diploma in Civil Engineering through Unisa. The 27-year old is on a two-year contract to work on the construction of the Hydrogen Epoch of Reionisation Array.
Malissa Pietersen joined the organisation in December this year as the new supply chain management employee in Carnarvon. She comes equipped with a wealth of knowledge which she gained which working at the SAPS office in Carnarvon, where she also worked in procurement.
She says even though the SARAO environment is quite new to her, she is looking forward to the challenge.
Lourencia Lyon joined the organisation in November 2017 as a General Worker on the Hydrogen Epoch of Reionisation Array (HERA). Before joining the HERA, she worked as an intern field assistant in the local Carnarvon Library. Here she assisted patrons, packed books and assisted with maintenance.
For the three years prior to this, she worked as a store assistant at Mr Price Home in Witbank. Before that she worked in Groblersdal.
Lyon also completed a number of courses including a library assistants course, as well as a computer course. She is currently studying towards a qualification in Human Resources.
Peter van Wyngaarden, joining the Hydrogen Epoch of Reionisation Array team as a General Worker, comes from Stratosat, where he worked in alignment. He originates from Carnarvon, and completed matric in 2014.
Daniel de Wee – HERA General Worker
Daniel de Wee who was born and bred in Carnarvon, worked at NMC as a traffic controller, before joining the Hydrogen Epoch of Reionisation Array project. Before this he worked with his father on a local farm, also as a general labourer.
Bradwin Vermeulen joined the HERA project as a General Worker. He has a certificate in computer literacy, and a three-month certificate in vehicle servicing. He completed matric in 2016 and hails from Carnarvon.
Tyrone Adams joined the Hydrogen Epoch of Reionisation Array project on a six-month contract as a General Worker. He formed part of the bus assembly crew at Stratsat. Before this he worked at a number of companies, including NAKA Telecoms, the Proud Build Project and completed a Fibre Optic technician course, through SKA SA. He is a qualified carpenter, and once also worked as a postman in Carnarvon.
Levurd Vaarland joined the organisation in December 2017 as a General Worker at the Hydrogen Epoch of Reionisation Array. Before joining the organisation he worked at a recycling company, as well as at Denron Crushers. Before that he also worked at NMC, before joining Stratosat as a bus assembly worker.
Eugene Julius was appointed through SARAO as the physical science teacher at Carnarvon High School in November 2017.
He originally hails from Carnarvon, and studied at the National Institute for Higher Education in Kimberley, and the University of the Western Cape majoring in mathematics and natural science.
He has been a teacher for eight years and currently teaches physical science to grades 10 to 12 learners, and natural science to grade 9 learners. He is also involved in the after school programme whereby grade 8 and 9 learners are tutored in mathematics during extra curricular lessons.
R. Sean Oliphant is originally from De Aar and matriculated at Orion High School in 2001. He studied at the National Institute for Higher Education in Kimberley, and obtained his B.Ed degree in 2008. Before joining Carnarvon High School, he taught at Orion High School for ten years. Currently he teaches mathematics to grade 8 and 9 learners at Carnarvon High School.
Last Updated on November 19, 2018