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South Africa’s MeerKAT to help unlock mysteries of universe

by UNTV News   |   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 Africa commemorates 100th anniversary of Mandela’s birth

by UNTV News   |   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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Ghostly particles give scientists new understanding of universe

by UNTV News   |   Posted on Friday, July 13th, 2018

Animation of Neutrino courtesy of National Science Foundation via Reuters

 

A breakthrough in the study of ghostly particles called high-energy neutrinos that traverse space, zipping unimpeded through people, planets, and whole galaxies, is giving scientists an audacious new way to expand our understanding of the cosmos.

Researchers on Thursday (July 12) said they have for the first time located a deep-space source for these ubiquitous subatomic particles. They detected high-energy neutrinos in pristine ice deep below Antarctica’s surface, then traced their source back to a giant elliptical galaxy with a massive, rapidly spinning black hole at its core, called a blazar, located 3.7 billion light-years from Earth in the Orion constellation.

The key observations were made at the IceCube Neutrino Observatory at a U.S. scientific research station at the South Pole and then confirmed by land-based and orbiting telescopes.

Astronomers long have relied upon electromagnetic observations – studying light – but this approach has limitations because too many aspects of the universe are indecipherable using light alone.

The ability to use particles like high-energy neutrinos in astronomy enables a more robust examination, much as the confirmation of ripples in the fabric of space-time called gravitational waves, announced in 2016, opened another new frontier in astronomy. This emerging field is dubbed “multi-messenger astrophysics.”

The findings solve a mystery dating to 1912 over the source of subatomic particles like neutrinos and cosmic rays that dash through the cosmos. It appears they arise from some of the universe’s most violent locales.

High-energy neutrinos are produced by the same sources as cosmic rays, the highest-energy particles ever observed, but differ in a key respect — as charged particles, cosmic rays cannot be traced straight back to their source because strong magnetic fields in space alter their trajectory.

Neutrinos are electrically neutral, undisturbed by even the strongest magnetic field, and rarely interact with matter, earning the nickname “ghost particle.” The direction from which they arrive points directly back to their original source.

The IceCube neutrino detector involves 86 holes drilled 8,200 feet (2,500 meters) into the Antarctic ice. Some 5,160 light sensors register small flashes of light produced during rare instances when a neutrino collides with an atomic nucleus in the transparent ice. The key detection came on Sept. 22, 2017, with the neutrino ultimately traced back to the blazar.

Scientists then determined that other neutrinos earlier detected by IceCube originated from the same source.— Reuters

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Listeria scare hits South African popular sandwich sales

by UNTV News   |   Posted on Wednesday, March 7th, 2018

A worker pulls a trolley after removing processed meat products at a Pick n Pay Store in Johannesburg, South Africa, March 5, 2018. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

Small stores in South Africa are taking a financial hit as costumers fear for their lives with the world’s worst listeria outbreak affecting the country.

South African health minister Aaron Motsoaledi said the source of the disease, which has killed 180 people since December last year, was found after pre-school children fell ill after eating polony products.

Polony is a meat product made by Tiger’s Enterprise Food, South Africa’s biggest food firm.

Neighboring states also acted swiftly following the scare.

Zimbabwe and Zambia banned imports of South African processed meat, dairy products, vegetables, and fruit.

Mozambique, Kenya, and Namibia halted imports of the processed meat items and Botswana said it was recalling them.

Malawi stepped up screening of South African food imports. — Reuters

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