Minister Blade Nzimande visits the SKA site for the first time

By Mukosi Fulufhelo

The Square Kilometer Array (SKA) project aims to build the largest radio telescope in the world that will help us peer deep into space. The Minister, Blade Nzimande,  visited the site for the first time last week.

Blade Nzimande was welcomed to the SKA site in the Northern Cape by the local authorities including the Councillor Norman van Wyk of the  Kareeberg Local Municipality and Premier of the Northern Cape, Dr Zamani Saul. “The purpose of the visit is to assess progress and the growth, in particular, of this very important scientific site which is dedicated to studying astronomy,” said Blade Nzimande. The site has a 64-dish MeerKAT precursor array that is part of SKA phase 1. An addition of around 130 dishes to MeerKAT will form the SKA mid-frequency telescope array that will count to almost 200.

SKA will have some outstations around South Africa and eight other African countries.  These are Botswana, Ghana, Kenya, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia and Zambia. Australia, South Africa’s SKA co-host will host low-frequency arrays of the SKA.

Since its launch in 2018, MeerKAT has contributed astounding images of space, such as the clearest image yet of the centre of the Milky Way Galaxy, and it’s latest discovery of two giant galaxies that were thought to be rare gives astronomers a bit more insight and understanding of the evolution of galaxies throughout cosmic history. These successes indicate the advancement of MeerKAT and thus the exciting and unprecedented successes of SKA.

Blade Nzimande mentioned that the importance of the SKA project is also that it   provides skills at various levels, from PhD, postdoctoral studies and also for artisans who build and maintain the site. The communities hosting the SKA project are already benefiting from it. Northern Cape premier Dr Zamani Saul said there are four towns hosting the project and they’ve seen investments in the schools and also their training programs. There are more benefits expected to come from this project including an increase in tourism as the project progresses.

Some international ambassadors who toured the site with the Minister are HE Gita Kamath High Commissioner of Australia, HE Paolo Cuculi Ambassador of Italy, HE Han Peters Ambassador of the Netherlands, HE Manuel Carvalho Ambassador of Portugal, HE Nigel Casey High Commissioner of the United Kingdom, HE Chen Xiaodong Ambassador of China, HE Martin Schafer Ambassador of German.

When addressing his audience at the site, Blade Nzimande said that SKA will grow and make an even bigger impact. He continued to say that ” South Africa is a country of science and that all we need to do is to educate people about the impact of science and excite our young people, as South Africa is a country of many opportunities”.