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Astronomy in Africa receives a boost from the African Renaissance Fund
Pretoria: The Board of the African Renaissance Fund has approved funding for the initial work to construct a network of radio telescopes in the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) African partner countries. The South African government, through the Minister of International Resources and Cooperation and the Minister of Finance, has approved the allocation of R120 million to start the construction of the African Very Long Baseline Interferometry (VLBI) Network immediately.
"We are exhilarated that our continent will now receive astronomy research facilities to advance the emergence of the African knowledge economy" said Naledi Pandor, South African Minister of Science and Technology.
The African VLBI Network (AVN) will use radio telescopes at various locations in Africa, operating in unison to create high-resolution observations of astronomical objects or accurately measure the distance between each radio telescope in the network. The resolution will be determined by the separation distance of telescopes. The greater the separation distance the greater the resolution and a network that uses the large North-South advantage, e.g. in Africa, will make it a powerful VLBI.
The South African Department of Science and Technology (DST) has since 2009 been working with its counterparts in the eight SKA partner countries (Botswana, Ghana, Kenya, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia and Zambia) to explore funding opportunities that will establish an African-owned network of radio telescopes.
This radio telescope funding injection is supported by the development of human capital, from technician level to post-doctoral fellowships.
"The growth of Africa as a global astronomy hub is a shared vision of African countries to use the increasingly available broadband infrastructure for research and economic benefits," said Pandor.
"The African VLBI Network is expected to encourage co-location with research and monitoring facilities like global positioning system stations, automated climate change monitoring weather stations and seismic activity warning systems," said Dr Tshepo Seekoe, the DST's Chief Director: Radio Astronomy Advances.
Mineral prospectors and other enterprises with socio-economic benefits will be able to use the roads, electricity and other infrastructure leading to the remote sites where the AVN telescopes will be constructed. This development is expected to create a more dynamic working environment for staff and students. The AVN will be used to study both astronomy and geodesy (continental drift).
Since the beginning of the African bid to host the SKA, there has been huge progress in astronomy in Africa, including the choice of Cape Town to host the International Astronomical Union Office of Astronomy for Development, the formation of the African Physical Society, the construction of a number of telescopes throughout Africa and, most importantly, the political endorsement of the SKA bid by African Union Heads of States and Government.