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African Astronomy II

March 26, 2015

Some giant radio dishes in Africa are getting a second life — they’re being reborn as radio telescopes. It’s part of an effort that will make southern Africa one of the leading sites in the world for radio astronomy.

The project is using retired communication satellite dishes that have been replaced by fiber-optic cables. The dishes are about a hundred feet across. Engineers are refurbishing their pointing systems and adding instruments that will allow them to detect radio waves from stars and other objects.

The first telescope was completed in Ghana, with three others in the refurbishment or planning stages. Each dish can act as an individual telescope, although the goal is to link them — and perhaps others — in a continent-spanning network. Such networks provide especially sharp views of the heavens.

The project is also providing training for scientists, technicians, and students across Africa. That’s important because southern Africa will be home to half of the world’s largest radio telescope — the Square Kilometer Array. It will consist of hundreds of radio dishes spread across several countries.

Precursors to that project are already taking shape. One consists of seven small antennas. It’ll form part of a larger precursor that’ll have 64 dishes. And that will form part of the Square Kilometer Array — a giant telescope spread across Africa and beyond.

We’ll talk about another type of astronomy in Africa tomorrow.


Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2015

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