This Sunday, Carte Blanche will bring viewers an exclusive update from the site of the world’s biggest science experiment, right here on South African soil. Scientists from around the world are lining up to participate in the experiment, known as South Africa’s Square Kilometre Array. Hidden deep in the Karoo, SKA will enable us to look back to the origin of life and answer questions we haven’t even thought of yet, and Derek is on site to see how this mammoth and significant project is rolling out.
It’s been more than two years since South Africa won the bid to co-host the SKA radio telescope project in a remote part of the northern Karoo. And, it has been five years since Carte Blanche first reported on SKA. Producer Liz Fish won the Siemens Profile Pan African Journalist of the year award for Science and Technology for the original story. Now Derek Watts and the Carte Blanche team head back to the site to see dramatic developments since their first programme in 2010.
The massive Square Kilometre Array (SKA) telescope, to be built in a collaboration between Australia and South Africa, will allow scientists to look far back into the history of the cosmos and give more detail than ever before on how the universe has evolved and how stars and galaxies formed. It will also ultimately allow for the plotting of a 3D map of the universe.
In the insert, Derek flies in with lead SKA scientist Professor Justin Jonas and arrives to find the SKA SA team excelling on all fronts. They are developing the fastest computer in the world and learning how to handle the mega-data currently being gathered by the two MeerKAT telescopes in place. With ambitious plans to build 64 such telescopes by the end of 2016, the SKA team are already carrying out cutting-edge science and attracting leading scientists from around the world who want to be here, working in South African universities.
Director of SKA SA, Bernie Fanaroff, says: “The whole world is watching. We have to deliver the best telescope in the world for 650 million Euros. This is a high profile project so you don’t want to get it wrong.” So far, they haven’t. And, they’re on target with delivery of the first two MeerKAT Antennae, which have exceeded expectation to the extent that the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy – Germany’s biggest research foundation – is investing 11 million Euros in the project to increase the sensitivity and power of the telescopes.
For a glimpse into how South Africa is leading the world of cutting edge astronomy, as well as other stories, watch Carte Blanche, this Sunday 15 February at 19:00 on M-Net Channel 101.