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Astronomy in South Africa is profiled at the IAU GA 2018 in Vienna
SARAO News #02 2018
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.
The bright red and orange hues of the Galactic Centre radio emission panorama have been catching the eyes and imaginations of visitors to the IAU since it commenced on 20 August 2018.
The stand for the South African Radio Astronomical Observatory (SARAO) was positioned directly next to the South African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO) to demonstrate the multi-wavelength astronomy applications and research that is being done in South Africa.
The two Galactic Centre displays were the pride and joy of the SARAO stand where MeerKAT took centre stage, vividly depicting the first radio image to be released using the 64 antennas (or dishes) of the recently inaugurated MeerKAT telescope array. This is the clearest view of the Galactic Centre to-date (using additional information obtained with the Green Bank Telescope, courtesy of Bill Cotton, NRAO) and gives us a novel look into the extreme phenomena occurring at the centre of our Galaxy.
Covering a field of view of 1 degree by 2 degrees (corresponding to an area of approximately 500 light-years by 1000 light-years), it shows several never-before-seen features as well as an in-depth look into familiar features such as radio filaments and supernova remnants. This image is also simply visually stunning. For these reasons, it has already been featured in several talks during the General Assembly, and the data underlying it promises to be at the forefront of many future scientific discussions.
The MeerKAT radio telescope facility consists of 64 antennas nestled within the beautiful expanse of the Karoo in the Northern Cape, South Africa. On 13 July 2018, a high level delegation (which included the Deputy President of the Republic of South Africa, Mr David Mabuza and members of the SKA Board) and the media world were present at the official launch of the 64, 13.5-metre wide dishes, where the Galactic Centre image was unveiled.
Commissioning of the telescope continues, while some of the already approved Large Survey Projects have started doing their science, studying radio emission from transient astrophysical events (the ThunderKAT project), and the star formation history of the Universe (MIGHTEE). Development of new capabilities on MeerKAT continues. Eventually, MeerKAT will be incorporated into the mid-frequency component of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) telescope, and will be combined with 133 additional updated antennas across a maximum baseline of 150km.
MeerKAT itself is one of several radio facilities that fall under the umbrella organisation SARAO, a National Facility of the National Research Foundation of South Africa. In addition to MeerKAT, and South Africa’s involvement with the SKA, SARAO also incorporates other major radio astronomy facilities in Africa, including the KAT-7 telescopes in the Karoo, the Hartebeesthoek Radio Astronomy Observatory (HartRAO) in Gauteng, and the African Very Long Baseline Interferometry (AVN) programme that consists of involvement from an additional eight African countries.
One of the major outreach challenges that the SARAO team is currently facing is the need to increase the exposure and popularity of the MeerKAT facility without compromising sensitive scientific requirements by having guests visit our radio-protected sites. A solution: visitors to the SARAO stand are able to take a 6-minute virtual tour of the MeerKAT facilities using Oculus Rift virtual reality (VR) headsets.
A powerful and fully-immersive experience, SARAO’s been using its VR headsets as educational tools across South Africa in order to transport local communities of school children and adults alike to the MeerKAT facilities in the remote Karoo location. Furthermore, the Inter-University Institute for Data Intensive Astronomy (IDIA) and the Iziko Planetarium and Digital Dome in Cape Town, has started to explore the 3D visualisation of South African astronomy facilities and the large data sets they produce within the 360 degree full-dome space of a digital dome planetarium.
Recently, the IDIA held a media event at the Iziko Planetarium that unveiled previously unpublished astronomical images from MeerKAT and its optical complimentary instrument, MeerLICHT. It is ground-breaking visualisation methods such as these that will inspire a new generation of South African astronomers.
The Galactic Centre display at the SARAO exhibition stand is exciting, not only for the scientific value it represents but also for the promise of future science, technology, engineering, mathematics and innovation (STEMI) advancements with MeerKAT. Not only does the MeerKAT project reveal the potential for South Africa to be at the forefront of world-wide STEMI research within well-established communities, but it also exposes the exciting advancements of traditionally under-represented groups as well.
Indeed, just last week, the Vice-President of Executive Committee for the IAU and South African-Dutch astronomer Professor Renée Kraan-Korteweg was awarded the South African Department of Science and Technology Minister’s Special Award in the field of Astronomy: the Commemorative MeerKAT Award. Furthermore, SKA Phase 1 is expected to start commissioning in 2024 tying in, somewhat serendipitously, with Cape Town’s South African bid to host the IAU General Assembly in 2024.
Big Data Attendees at the one-day work session which was held on 11 July 2017 at the Ministry of Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation in Ghana to kick off the High Performance Computing training programme in Ghana.
Last Updated on November 19, 2018