Saturday, 26 May 2012

Africa scores big on Africa Day.

Written by Gael Masengi

The wait is over, South Africa has been chosen but not as the sole host of the much anticipated multimillion dollars “SKA” project.

Dish antennas in Karoo, Northern Cape.
After months of wait, breath-holding and anxiety the decision has finally been made, South Africa will partly host the “Square Kilometre Array’’ project  with Australia-New Zealand joint. However, the decision to split the location of the project was not favoured at first by both S.A and Australia then bidders but now they will have to work together for the advancement of the world’s ground-breaking technology on astronomy.

Once completed the “Square Kilometre Array” (SKA) will be the most advanced radio telescope ever built, it will operate over a wide range of frequencies and will be fifty times more sensitive than any other radio instrument. The “SKA” will give astronomers insight into the formation and evolution of the first stars and galaxies after the Big Bang, the role of cosmic magnetism, the nature of gravity, and possibly even life beyond Earth. The announcement is clearly considered as a big blow for Africa; add on top that Africans were celebrating “Africa Day”, the project can have a real impact on economy development for South Africa and its neighbours. Bernie Fanaroff, South African project director for the “SKA” was quoted by Reuters news agency saying “A project like this is iconic; it's inspirational, and it raises the profile of science and technology in Africa dramatically, both in the eyes of the rest of the world and in the eyes of Africans.”  

He added: “Africa was perceived as not too high tech. People talked about Africa as the next big business destination, the next great economic growth story, but you've got to underpin that with something, you don't want to just dig things out of the ground and ship them off to Asia or Europe.”

South African Science Minister, Naledi Pandor at first called the dual hosting site decision a “political settlement” then she withdrew the statement and welcomed the compromise. "It was an unexpected decision, we accept the comprise in the interests of progress." She said

The Britain-based consortium managing the project said that the telescope will be 10,000 times faster than any other telescope on Earth; its central computer will have the processing power of about one hundred million PCs. Also the “SKA” will use enough optical fiber to wrap twice around our planet, the antenna dishes and receivers will produce data double the volume of current internet traffic in one day. The “SKA” will generate enough data to fill fifteen million 64 Gigabytes Apple iPods every day and would take up to two million years to play them back.

The project is expected to fully be operational by the year 2024 with phase 1 of construction is set to start in 2016, followed by phase 2 scheduled from 2018-2023.

As we are reaching for far distances, I hope we won’t have Battleship (film) like scenario playing for real on our beloved planet.

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