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Ghana and South Africa celebrate first light of SKA-linked African network of radio telescopes

The Ministries of Ghana and South Africa announced the combination of ‘first light’ science observations which confirm the successful conversion of a Ghanaian communications antenna from a redundant telecoms instrument into a functioning Very Long Baseline Interferometry (VLBI) radio telescope.

The 32m Kutunse antenna at the Ghana Radio Astronomy Observatory. Credit: Google Maps.

Accra, Wednesday 5 July 2017 – Ghana is the first partner country of the African Very Large Baseline Interferometer (VLBI) Network (AVN) to complete the conversion of a communications antenna into a functioning radio telescope. The 32-metre converted telecommunications antenna at the Ghana Intelsat Satellite Earth Station at Kutunse will be integrated into the African VLBI Network (AVN) in preparation for the second phase construction of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) across the African continent.

Nine African partner countries are members of the AVN, including Botswana, Ghana, Kenya, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, and Zambia.

As an SKA Africa partner country, Ghana welcomed and collaborated with the SKA South Africa (SKA SA)/HartRAO (Hartebeesthoek Radio Astronomical Observatory) group to harness the radio astronomy potential of the redundant satellite communication antenna at Kutunse. A team of scientists and engineers from SKA SA/HartRAO and the Ghana Space Science and Technology Institute (GSSTI) which is under the Ghanaian Ministry of Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation (MESTI), has been working since 2011 on the astronomy instrument upgrade to make it radio-astronomy ready.

“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,” says the South African Minister of Science and Technology, Mrs Naledi Pandor. The AVN programme is aimed at transferring skills and knowledge in African partner countries to build, maintain, operate and use radio telescopes. Minister Pandor continued by saying: “It will bring new science opportunities to Africa on a relatively short time scale and develop radio astronomy science communities in SKA partner countries.”

Read the full communiqué on the SKA Africa website

Credit: SKA SA.

A huge old telecommunication dish in Ghana was converted in an astronomical telescope. Credit: SKA SA.

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