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March 2014
In this issue
MeerKAT infrastructure
MeerKAT's components
Testing, testing, 1-2-3 ...
Super science in the pipeline
Future science with MeerKAT
Meeting calibration challenges
AVN is taking shape
SA playing key role in SKA
C-BASS is ready
UKZN researchers join PAPER
SKA science conference
Public talk on pulsars
African focus at 2014 AAS
Training young astronomers
What to do with big data?
SKA SA student conference
Eclipse workshops in Gabon
FET Bursars
New maths & science teachers
New trainee technician
Carnarvon technology access
Collaboration with ESO
BRICS delegation at SKA SA
Profile: Dr George Nicolson
From Antarctica to SA
Supercomputer simulations
Free State astrophysicist
Three SKA-related PHDs
Profile: Dr Modhurita Mitra
'Sensible metrics' for dishes
Getting ready for MeerKAT and the SKA

MeerKAT infrastructure nearly ready
Work on the supporting infrastructure needed for the MeerKAT radio telescope is wrapping up with finishing touches to the Karoo Array Processing Building (KAPB) and the power facility. The KAPB will house all the data processing racks and the power and back-up equipment. Read on

Manufacturing MeerKAT's components
The design for the MeerKAT antenna positioner was finalised after a year of technical collaboration between Stratosat Datacom / General Dynamics Satcom Technologies and SKA South Africa. The antenna positioner will be a truly South African-built initiative. Read on

Testing, testing, 1-2-3 ... MeerKAT
MeerKAT's engineers are busy with a series of rigorous tests to ensure the stability, accuracy and integrity of the instrument. Until the SKA is completed, MeerKAT will be the most sensitive radio interferometer in the L-Band in the world. Read on

Super science in the MeerKAT pipeline
MeerKAT's science objectives have been designed to make the most of the telescopes capabilities and will involve teams of top astronomers and astrophysicists from around the globe. Read on

Research leading into future science with MeerKAT
Prof Matt Jarvis and Dr Ian Heywood were successful in obtaining over 100 hours of JVLA (Jansky Very Large Array) time to carry out science of direct relevance to the MIGHTEE survey that will be conducted on the MeerKAT telescope when it begins operations. Read on

Meeting the calibration challenges of the SKA
Calibration techniques were relatively easy with older, simpler interferometers, but large telescopes such as the SKA, and its precursors, present a whole new set of mathematical, algorithmic, and computational challenges in calibration. Read on

AVN is taking shape in Ghana and Mozambique
The African Very Long Baseline Interferometry (VLBI) Network (AVN) programme aims to convert defunct telecommunication antennas across the continent into a large network of radio telescopes that will support the scientific and technical activities of the SKA. Read on

South Africa is playing a key role in designing the SKA
More than 350 scientists and engineers, representing 18 nations and drawn from nearly one hundred institutions, universities and industry are involved in the current detailed design phase of the first phase of the SKA. South Africa leads two of the eleven 'pre-construction work packages'. Read on

Other science at SKA SA site

C-BASS ready to hit the high notes
While the receiver and software of the Southern C-Band All Sky Survey (C-BASS) telescope are being put through final tests at Hartebeesthoek Radio Astronomy Observatory, planning is getting under way to install the receiver at Klerefontein in the Karoo later this year. Read on

UKZN researchers join PAPER ranks
A small team from the University of KwaZulu-Natal is the latest to join the efforts of the Precision Array for Probing the Epoch of Reionisation (PAPER) experiment to learn about the period in the universe's history when the first stars ignited.
Read on

Conferences & workshops

The SKA will transform our understanding of the Universe
The Who's Who of global radio astronomy gathered in Stellenbosch during February 2014 to discuss future science with the SKA and its synergy with other new telescopes. Read on

What on Earth (or not on Earth) are pulsars?
Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell, famous for her role in the discovery of the first radio pulsars, gave a public talk during the February 2014 SKA conference in Stellenbosch. Read on

African focus at 2014 AAS meeting in the US
The growing interest of American astronomers in Africa's astronomy capabilities was evident at the special session entitled "Astronomy Across Africa: A New Dawn", which was held at the annual winter meeting of the American Astronomical Society (AAS). Read on

Training bright young astronomy minds in KZN
Leading astronomers gathered in Durban late in 2013 to present an introductory radio astronomy school at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN). This workshop was designed to prepare students in the methods required to work with data from MeerKAT and the future SKA. Read on

What to do with big data?
South Africa is being hit by the "data tsunami" and the way in which the country positions itself in terms of big data infrastructure and policies, as well as hardware and software development, will determine our research capacity this century.
Read on

SKA SA students set to take on the future
It was with a touch of jealousy that Prof Phil Diamond, the director general of the SKA Organisation, delivered his keynote address at the 8th annual SKA SA Bursary Conference held in Stellenbosch in December 2013. Read on

Eclipse-inspired astronomy workshops in Gabon
Patrice Okouma, an SKA SA-funded postdoc at the University of the Western Cape and the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences, recently helped to organise two successful workshops on astronomy and space science in Libreville, Gabon.
Read on

Capacity building

This year's FET bursars strong in maths and science
In 2014, SKA bursaries will support Further Education and Training (FET) for 18 young people from the towns surrounding the SKA site in the Northern Cape. The bursars will study towards mechanical and electrical engineering diplomas, as well as Information Technology certificates. Read on

New maths and science teachers for Carnarvon
Thembisa Tsembeyi and Itumeleng Molefi will be teaching maths and science to grades 9 - 12 at Carnarvon High School for the next two years, thanks to a partnership between SKA SA and Teach SA. Read on

New trainee technician at SKA SA Karoo site
Last year, Michael Lesetja began a journey that would take him to the heart of the biggest science project in the world. Since January 2014 he has been shadowing technicians responsible for telescope maintenance in Carnarvon in the Northern Cape. Read on

A growth spurt for Carnarvon technology access
Janice Kruger says the SIYAFUNDA Community Technology Centre at the Kareeberg Library has made life a lot easier for Carnarvon's youth. Both the community centre and the e-schools initiative were made possible by generous donations from several SKA SA industry partners. Read on

International visitors and visits

Visit to explore collaboration with ESO
A five-person delegation from South Africa visited the ESO (European Southern Observatory) in Chile during December 2013 to explore opportunities for collaboration. Read on

BRICS delegation at SKA SA site
South Africa's Minister of Science and Technology, Derek Hanekom, headed a delegation of science and technology ministers and senior officials from Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (BRICS) to the Karoo radio astronomy site near Carnarvon on 11 February 2014. Read on

People & profiles

Pioneer of radio astronomy in SA - Dr George Nicolson
After a career devoted to radio astronomy that earned him world recognition for his leadership and vision in the field, George Nicolson retired as director of the Hartebeesthoek Radio Astronomy Observatory (HartRAO). He remains actively involved in research and the SKA project. Read on

From Antarctica to SA for Cynthia Chiang
The name of her website,, says it all: Dr Cynthia Chiang of the University of KwaZulu-Natal likes having fun while being an observational cosmologist who studies the origins, evolution and overall structure of the universe.
Read on

Young achievers supported by SKA SA

Cunnama solves galactic puzzles using supercomputer simulations
Daniel Cunnama graduated with a PhD from the University of the Western Cape. His research uses state-of-the-art supercomputer simulations to study galaxies and their environments. Read on

SKA bursaries help shape career path of Free State astrophysicist
Alida Odendaal, an SKA SA bursary holder, is thrilled about the first peer reviewed journal article of which she is lead author - published in January 2014 in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. Read on

Three SKA-related PHD's awarded at Maties
In December 2013, doctoral degrees in engineering were awarded to Stellenbosch University students Dr André Young, Dr Mark Volkmann and Dr Bob Ilgner for their SKA-related research. Read on

A passage to Africa - profile on Modhurita Mitra
To take up the position as a postdoctoral researcher in the SKA research chair group of Prof Oleg Smirnov required a big move to a yet another different continent for Dr Modhurita Mitra - one that has meant many adjustments to a new culture and lifestyle. Read on

Working towards 'sensible metrics' to position SKA dishes
Sphesihle Makhathini, a PhD student at Rhodes University, recently featured on the careers programme Ispani on SABC 1. He gave viewers a glimpse into the life of a doctoral student in astronomy. Read on