S. Africa Scores World’s Biggest Telescope, $2B Project

S. Africa Scores World’s Biggest Telescope, $2B Project

The Karoo desert, located three hours from Cape Town, will become home to part of the Square Kilometer Array project, a $2 billion radio telescope said to be the world’s largest.

South Africa and Australia were jointly chosen to host the project, according to a report in Africa Good News. The telescope is 50 times more sensitive than any equipment so far and will seek answers to the origins of the universe, the report said.

How does the universe evolve? How do galaxies evolve? Is there life in the universe? “There are all sorts of answers that we don’t right now have the possibility of getting with the existing telescopes,” said Justin Jonas, associate director for science and engineering at Square Kilometer Array South Africa, in the report. The world can expect some groundbreaking discoveries, he said.

South Africa competed against Australia to host the telescope. About a year ago, the decision was made to split the Square Kilometer Array between the two countries with the core of it being in South Africa.

The project will put Africa on the scientific map, said Derek Hanekom, South Africa’s deputy minister of science and technology. “We have eight partner countries on the African continent,” he said. It’s an opportunity to reach new dimensions in scientific endeavor and to be part of a large global scientific project, he said.

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Construction is expected to begin in 2016 and the Square Kilometer Array should be fully fully functional by 2024. A test telescope has already been built to try out the technology.  The Karoo Array Telescope 7 is a working instrument, the report says.

The first scientific paper was published several weeks ago after the KAT-7 telescope uncovered the secrets of a binary star system, according to Africa Good News.

Using the seven-dish KAT-7 telescope and the 26 meter radio telescope at the Hartebeesthoek Radio Astronomy Observatory, astronomers observed a neutron star system known as Circinus X-1, according to a report in EurekAlert!

Results appeared in the international astronomical journal, “Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.”

The star system was observed firing energetic matter from its core into the surrounding system in extensive, compact jets that flared brightly, details of which are visible only in radio waves, the report said.

It was considered an encouraging first step that bodes well for the Square Kilometer Array technology and potential, according to Africa Good News.