In December 2009, UCT's Department of Astronomy was awarded the Chair in Extragalactic Multi- Wavelength Astronomy, part of the South African Research Chairs Initiative in collaboration with the South African Square Kilometre Array (SKA) office. One of five Research Chairs dedicated to the SKA project, the new Chair augurs well for the development of radio astronomy through undergraduate and postgraduate student programmes at UCT.
Awarded for 15 years and worth up to R3.2-million, the new Chair will focus on galaxy formation, evolution and cosmology through radio observations. It will be "embedded" in the Faculty of Science's Astrophysics, Cosmology and Gravitation Research Centre.
Both South Africa and Australia have been short-listed to host the SKA, which will consist of thousands of dishes and radio-wave collecting devices, offering vast computing power. This equipment will detect very faint radio-wave signals from deep space, allowing astronomers to look back in time at the early origins of the universe.
Both bid contenders are building radio telescopes or "pathfinders" to contribute to the SKA technology. South Africa has begun construction on the Karoo Array Telescope, or MeerKAT, in the Northern Cape. This offers a radio telescope of eighty 12m dishes. In addition to the Southern African Large Telescope (SALT), it will significantly boost the country's research capacity in astronomy and provide opportunities for technology and knowledge transfer.
Hosting the SKA in South Africa will boost the development of highlevel skills and cutting-edge technology infrastructure in Africa, and will also attract expertise and collaborative projects to the continent.
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