Is Africa An Emerging Hub For Astronomy?

Is Africa An Emerging Hub For Astronomy?

U.S. partners are needed to strengthen human and technological resources in Africa as the continent makes advances in astronomy, AfricaScienceNews reports.

Africa is emerging as a hub for astronomy, said Takalani Nemaungani, director of global projects at the South African Department of Science and Technology.

Nemaungani spoke at 23rd annual meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Washington, D.C.

South African astronomy initiatives, in particular, are attracting American astronomers, Nemaungani said.

One example of South Africa-U.S. partnership in astronomy is the Square Kilometre Array, or SKA Project (in South Africa) and the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (in the U.S.)

When complete, the SKA project will be the world’s biggest telescope and one of the biggest scientific projects ever.

The two organizations agreed to collaborate on advanced, cutting-edge radio astronomy projects in both countries, AfricaScienceNews reports. The decision to renew this agreement for an additional five years was signed Aug. 5 in Cape Town.

This agreement paves the way to pool resources and expertise in projects related to the development and implementation of software, data processing and archiving, and state-of-the-art receiving systems.

KAT-7 is a radio telescope built in the Northern Cape as a precursor engineering test bed to the MeerKAT telescope, which has since become a science instrument in its own right. The construction was completed in 2011 and commissioned in 2012. It served as a tech demonstrator that helped secure South Africa’s bid to host the Square Kilometre Array.

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“Radio astronomy in both countries will benefit from sharing expertise resulting from recent expansions and upgrades to radio astronomy facilities in the U.S.A., and the construction of the KAT-7 and the MeerKAT in South Africa,” said Bernie Fanaroff, director of SKA South Africa. “Scientists in the U.S. are keen to collaborate with South Africa in the construction of the MeerKAT telescope as a precursor to the SKA, because they recognize that the MeerKAT will be a world-leading and very exciting telescope in its own right.”

Nemaungani said more partnerships with the U.S. are needed similar to the partnerships Africa has with Europe via the African-European Radio Astronomy Platform. It plays an important role in advancing collaborative projects in radio astronomy, he said.

The African-European Radio Astronomy Platform is a stakeholder forum of representatives from industry, academia and the public established in May 2012 to define and implement priorities for radio astronomy cooperation between Europe and Africa.

Its goals are to leverage radio astronomy, advance scientific discovery, improve knowledge transfer and stimulate competitiveness across both continents.

The American Astronomical Society is the largest gathering of U.S. astronomers under one roof to promote the advancement of astronomy and closely related branches of science, AfricaScienceNews reports. The society also works to enhance astronomy education and provide a political voice for its members through lobbying.

The U.S. has a strong astronomy base with the highest number of astronomers in a single country, accounting for about a third of the world’s astronomers.

The American Astronomical Society meeting included topics such as the demographics of the profession, how to handle big data, present and future sky surveys, next-generation space-astronomy missions, and key problems in understanding planetary systems, stars, galaxies, and the structure and evolution of the universe.

It also featured numerous public-policy town hall sessions. Representatives from NASA, the National Science Foundation, and the National Research Council led discussions on federal funding for the astronomical sciences and the effects of the ongoing battles between and within the White House and Congress.