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Getting ready for the Square Kilometre Array!

Updated: Aug 26, 2019


The members of “Malagasy Astronomy & Space Science”, with Dr Zara Randriamanakoto (rightmost) (Photo: the author).

From the Hollywood Science-Fiction movie to reality


Are we alone in the Universe? One of the biggest questions that astronomers spend their careers, trying to reveal all secrets of the whole Universe. The Square Kilometre Array (SKA), the world’s largest radio telescope, is quite a valuable tool that they will hopefully use to expand our knowledge of the Universe. The SKA is one of the next generation astronomy observatories where some elements are expected to become operational in the mid- 2020s. It will consist of thousands interconnected antennas to enable the giant telescope to be 50 times more sensitive than any other radio instrument like the well-known Jansky Very Large Array (JVLA) telescope in New Mexico, which featured in “Contact”, a 1997 Hollywood movie. With such a high performance, numerous and unexpected discoveries are predicted in the forthcoming decade as the SKA will detect faint signals from the Big Bang, and why not intelligent extraterrestrial life!


By surveying the sky 10,000 times faster than the JVLA, the SKA will produce around thousand Petabytes of data per day. Such a value is twice of the daily global internet traffic. There is definitely a need to address the challenges of Big Data handling and storage well-before the SKA is even operational. This is why new institutes such as the Inter-University Institute for Data Intensive Astronomy have been created.


Now is the time for Africa!


It is not surprising that South Africa is at the forefront of Astronomy and Big Data Science given its involvement to the SKA mega-science project. In fact, the “Rainbow Nation” and Australia will each host components of the SKA. For these countries to have successfully being selected to host this international initiative, they each built precursors/prototypes with an impressive performance: MeerKAT for South Africa and ASKAP for Australia. The former is composed of 64 dishes and is located in the Karoo of the Northern Cape. Its inauguration was held in July 2018 when the first image from the brand-new telescope was publicly unveiled. The image showed an unprecedented view of the centre of our Milky Way Galaxy.


The SKA will be constructed in two stages and eight south African partner countries in Africa including Madagascar could host a portion of the SKA Phase 2. Because of this collaboration since 2006, Astronomy in the “Red Island” had grown exponentially where the next generation of Malagasy astronomers are being trained in South Africa and the United Kingdom as well as at the Physics Department of the University of Antananarivo. The newly established Malagasy Radio Astronomy Observatory, headquartered at the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research, is in charge of the renovation and the conversion of an old telecom dish in Arivonimamo into a radio telescope as part of a pan-African project: the African VLBI Network.


Not only the SKA will be world’s largest radio telescope, but it has enabled the growth of Astronomy Human Capital Development in Africa. The field of Astronomy no longer only involves the developed world. Any student with a bright mind and a passion for the subject is now able to choose whether to pursue his/her study in Africa or elsewhere.


Meet the “Malagasy Astronomy & Space Science” members


To coordinate the promotion of Astronomy and Science in Madagascar, a team of young researchers and graduate students launched the “Malagasy Astronomy & Space Science” (MASS) in 2016. Apart from organizing outreach activities, the nonprofit association runs regular astronomy workshops and computational trainings delivered by its professional members (anyone with a PhD degree). Note that MASS is the Malagasy adhering organization of the International Astronomical Union which is an international organization of professional astronomers. The Union welcomed Madagascar as one of its national members during the 30th General Assembly held in August 2018.


Now is the time for Africa! Do not doubt of your potential and if you have good maths and physics background, why not consider pursuing a degree in Astrophysics? Be part of the team who will explore the Universe with the most powerful radio telescope ever.

If you want to know more about the SKA, visit www.skatelescope.org. Do you have a passion for Space and Astronomy? Then join the Malagasy Astronomy & Space Science association at: https://www.facebook.com/DagoAstronomy.




About the author

Dr. Zara Randriamanakoto earned a PhD in Astronomy at Cape Town University, South Africa. Her Research Interests are mainly about Super star clusters and Star Forming Galaxies Currently she is a researcher at the South African Astronomical Observatory, South Africa as well as being close associate of researchers at the SKA project for the preparation of the research results obtained from this world's largest radio telescop. To reach out or for more informations, please contact her at: zara@saao.ac.za



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