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South Africa’s MeerKAT to help unlock mysteries of universe

by admin   |   Posted on Monday, July 16th, 2018

MeerKAT, telecopes in silhouette (Image grabbed from Reuters video)


A scientific mega-project to unlock cosmic conundrums from dark energy to detecting extra-terrestrial life was given a boost on Friday (July 13), when the 64-dish MeerKAT radiotelescope was inaugurated in the remote South African town of Carnarvon.

Built at a cost of 4.4 billion rand, ($329.56 million) MeerKAT will be incorporated into the complex Square Kilometre Array (SKA) instrument, which when fully operational in the late 2020s would be the world’s biggest and most powerful radio telescope.

Up to 3,000 dishes co-hosted in Africa and Australia will then be able to scan the sky 10,000 times faster with 50 times the sensitivity of any other telescope and produce images that exceed the resolution quality of the Hubble Space Telescope, scientists said of SKA.

Rob Adam, an SKA international board member, told Reuters that MeerKAT is the first of its kind and South Africa has received tremendous recognition for it.

While the mega-project focuses on science, the government is also developing institutions to grow the country’s capabilities and skills with emphasis on human capital development, training and upskilling of local people.

At an inauguration attended by government officials and foreign dignitaries, Camilo released new images taken by MeerKAT of the region surrounding the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way galaxy, some 25,000 light years away.

MeerKAT is a followup to the KAT 7 (Karoo Array Telescope), built in the vast semi-desert Karoo region north of Cape Town to demonstrate South Africa’s ability to host the SKA. Its name is a play on words: in Afrikaans “meer” means “more”, as in “more KAT”, but it also refers to the small mammal native to the Karoo and famed for standing on its hind legs to view the world.

Besides ground-breaking astronomy research, MeerKAT is also pushing boundaries in big data and high-performance computing with the likes of IBM helping develop systems able to handle the dizzying amount of data fed from each individual antenna to supercomputers buried deep underground to limit radio interference.

The biggest radio telescope of its kind in the southern hemisphere, MeerKAT looks like a cluster of eggs when you first see it about an hour’s drive outside Carnarvon.

But up close, each sensitive dish is almost as high as a three storey building, rotating on a fixed pedestal as it scans the sky. Chosen because of its remoteness, with hills providing an extra shield against radio interference, the project site is the main African base for hundreds of antennae that will eventually be placed as far as Kenya and Ghana.

The expansion is expected to start next year, said Adam, with the first prototype dish built in China already on site about 450 kilometers north of Cape Town in the Northern Cape province. MeerKAT will operate independently before being incorporated into SKA 1 sometime around 2023, Adam said. -Reuters

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South African scientists establish sperm bank to save penguin species

by admin   |   Posted on Monday, January 28th, 2019

 Penguins by seaside in Cape Town, South Africa | Reuters

A sperm bank for African penguins has been established in South Africa as part of a new study into the reproductive biology of the species, whose numbers are in severe decline.

African penguins are the only penguin species that are listed as endangered. With just some 50,000 breeding pairs left from some 5 million 20 years ago, they are facing the threat of extinction.

“With this species only found in Africa, you don’t see other types of African penguins along the other countries, but people come here just to see the African penguin. If they aren’t here within the next 10 years, there is nothing for them to come to South Africa for and this is what makes it special, so with us having this sperm collection and in-vitro, this could potentially bring up a lot more for our future, especially making sure that generations to come can see a penguin species on our coastline,” said Shanet Rutgers, a penguin manager with Two Oceans Aquarium.

Agape and Ayoba are the two African penguins that are chosen to play the big role in keeping their species off the extinction list. As the first sperm donors for the new bio bank, both of them were hand-picked as they were the most habituated to aquarium staff, making sample collections easier for future insemination.

Their reproductive biology and mating behavior is now being closely monitored and studied, as a way to secure the species in a long term future through in-vitro fertilization.

According to Dr Katta Ludynia, a research manager with SANCCOB, a leading organization in seabird rehabilitation in southern Africa, the in-vitro study is just one part of much broader efforts to sustain the seabirds in the long term future. Ludynia says this includes rehabilitating sick and injured penguins, as wild stocks are at an all-time decline.

“We’ve reached such a low level that it is important to start coming up with these contingency plans,the sperm bank is one of those, obviously hopefully we will never get to the point that we have so few birds in the wild that we need to rely on a sperm bank to artificially reproducepenguins. But we could get there, I mean seeing the continuous decline of the species in 10,15 years, we might be there, so it’s good to get our knowledge there, to get our experiences there,” said Dr Ludynia. — Reuters

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New gamma ray observatory in Chile to be world’s biggest

by admin   |   Posted on Thursday, December 20th, 2018


Graphic representation of the future Cherenkov telescope array | REUTERS

The Chilean government signed an agreement on Wednesday (December 19) with the European Southern Observatory to construct a gamma ray observatory that will be 20 times larger and 10 times more sensitive than sites currently studying that particular form of energy.

The European Southern Observatory is a intergovernmental organisation that already operates a complex of astronomical observatories on Paranal hill in the Chile’s Atacama desert.

Andreas Reisenegger of Chile’s Pontifical Catholic University said the site was chosen to provide a direct view into the heart of our galaxy, the Milky Way.

Reisenegger also said the new gamma ray observatory may provide a glimpse into one of the universe’s greatest mysteries: dark matter. — Reuters

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South Africa commemorates 100th anniversary of Mandela’s birth

by admin   |   Posted on Thursday, July 19th, 2018


Nelson Mandela. REUTERS/Paul McErlane


Wednesday (July 18) would have been former president and anti-apartheid hero Nelson Mandela’s 100th birthday, and to mark the anniversary a set of limited edition bank notes and gold coins was launched in South Africa’s capital of Pretoria.

Mandela, South Africa’s first black president, is known throughout the world as an icon of peace and reconciliation who came to embody the struggle for justice and liberation. A towering statesman, he emerged from nearly three decades of imprisonment to guide his country from the shackles of apartheid to the formation of a multi-racial democracy.

The killing of 69 blacks, including women and children, by security forces during a protest against apartheid laws in Sharpeville in 1960 became a watershed. The massacre led to the African National Congress (ANC) abandoning its policy of non-violence and Mandela was among the first to advocate armed resistance, going underground in 1961 to form the ANC’s armed wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe (The Spear of the Nation).

On May 10th, 1994 Mandela was formally inaugurated as South Africa’s first black head of state before a world audience. A Mandela presidency, something millions of black South Africans had only dared dream about, had become a reality.

Mandela played a key role on the world stage and the world lined up to be seen with him. From U.S. President Bill Clinton to the Dalai Lama, world leaders extolled his humanity, dignity and ready smile.-Reuters

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