The University of the Witwatersrand has congratulated the Minister of Science and Technology, Naledi Pandor and all those involved in assisting South Africa to win the bid to host the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) radio telescope.
In a statement, Wits said “This is a major scientific coup for South Africa and will serve as a key research advantage to the entire scientific community.
“We believe that the SKA will be the most powerful major radio astronomy programme in the 21st Century that will allow us not only to understand the physics and the evolution of the universe and its structures, but also new aspects of astrophysics, like the origin of extremely high-energy particles, cosmic jets, black holes, and the structure and evolution of magnetic fields in cosmic structures, which will probably be addressed for the very first time. This attainment will open up new opportunities for South African scientists, including those based at Wits, to collaborate with some of the best scientists in Australia (co-hosts of the SKA) and the world.
“This is indeed a proud day for our country.”
Justin Jonas, the associate director for science and engineering at the SKA South Africa Project, said the decision marked a turning point in Africa. “This does signal a new era in Africa. We must realise how big this is.”
He said Africa would construct two of the three SKA receiver components, which was a major project. “Two thirds of the biggest instrument in the world is still the biggest instrument in the world,” he said.
“The science that will come out of this is truly amazing. The committee found that splitting the SKA didn’t compromise science. It will increase the costs, but will not compromise science in any way.”
Jonas hoped the project could now move “properly forward” and that the team could start “building stuff”.
The ANC welcomed the decision, saying “”This is a momentous day for South Africa and the continent and will give all of us the possibility to answer fundamental questions in physics, astronomy and cosmology.
“It will advance our scientific research capacity as a country and a continent and will also see a lot of foreign direct investment injected into this project, which will go a long way in creating much-needed jobs in our country and the continent.”
Democratic Alliance MP Junita Kloppers-Lourens said the party was disheartened, but not dismayed at the decision. “Today, Africa Day, we yearned to win the SKA bid to exemplify the African dream outright,” she said in a statement. “A draw is no loss, though, and the majority of physical infrastructure in phase one will be built in South Africa.”
She said the SKA advisory committee had identified Southern Africa as the preferred site. “That we will receive the lion’s share of the biggest ever scientific project may serve to reverse the trajectory of dead aid that has characterised the African continent and signal a new era of cutting edge investment that incisively builds our knowledge economy.”
Brand SA congratulated the department for its success. “We thank the bid committee for giving us and our African partners the platform to bring the stars and the universe closer to the leaders and explorers of tomorrow,” chief executive officer Miller Matola said in a statement. “It is really apt to have received the news on Africa Day, a day that celebrates the African continents rich heritage and diversity.”
SKA board chairman John Womersley said at press conference in Amsterdam earlier on Friday that a dual site approach had been decided on. “We will be installing equipment in both Australia and South Africa and together they will form part of a global observatory,” he said in comments quoted by French news agency AFP.
The SKA will be 50 times more sensitive than the current most powerful radio telescopes. Scientists hope the SKA project will provide answers about the universe, such as how it started and why it is expanding.
Australia’s core site will be the Mileura station, about 100 kilometres west of Meekathara in western Australia. South Africa’s main site will be outside Carnarvon in the Karoo. Satellite dishes for the project will stretch across south and east Africa.