Cape Town - The Ministries of Ghana and South Africa announced the combination of “first light” science observations, this confirms the successful conversion of the Ghana communications antenna from a redundant telecoms instrument into a functioning Very Long Baseline Interferometry (VLBI) radio telescope.
Ghana is the first partner country of the VLBI Network (AVN) to complete the conversion of a communications antenna into a functioning radio telescope. The 32-metre long converted telecommunications antenna will be integrated into the African VLBI Network (AVN) in preparation for the second phase of construction for the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) across the continent.
The observations made included Methanol Maser detections, VLBI fringe testing and Pulsar observations and reaching these objectives confirms that the instrument can operate as a single dish radio telescope and also as part of global VLBI network observations, such as the European VLBI network.
The Ghana Minister of Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation (MESTI), Professor Kwabena Frimpong-Boateng, said: “The Ghanaian government warmly embraces the prospect of radio astronomy in the country and our radio astronomy development plan forms part of the broader Ghana Science, Technology and Innovation Development Plan.”
As a Square Kilometre Array (SKA) Africa partner country, Ghana collaborated with SKA South Africa (SKA SA)/ Hartebeesthoek Radio Astronomical Observatory (HartRAO) group to harness the radio astronomy potential of the satellite antenna at Kutunse. Scientists and engineers from SKA SA/HartRAO along with Ghana Space Science and Technology Institute (GSSTI), has been working since 2011 to make it radio-astronomy ready and in 2012 the GSSTI was launched as the vehicle through which the astro-physics programme would grow.
The South African Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO) has been funding a large part of the conversion through the African Renaissance and International Cooperation Fund (ARF).
The South African Minister of DIRCO, Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane said: “The African Renaissance Fund is aimed at strengthening cooperation between South Africa and other African countries and to support the development of skills and build institutional capacity on the continent.”
Nine African partner countries are members of the SKA AVN, this includes Botswana, Ghana, Kenya, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, and South Africa.
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Minister of Science and Technology, Mrs Naledi Pandor said: “A vital part of the effort towards building SKA on the African Continent over the next decade is to develop the skills, regulations and institutional capacity needed in SKA partner countries to optimise African participation in the SKA.”
"It will bring new science opportunities to Africa on a relatively short time scale and develop radio astronomy science communities in SKA partner countries," Minister Pandor added.
The next SKA AVN Ministerial Forum will be held in Accra, Ghana in August when the Kutunse radio telescope will officially be launched.