India and South Africa are known for their strong bilateral relationship and have close strategic cultural and economic ties. Recently, India decided to participate in the multi-nation Square Kilometre Array (SKA) which is set to become the world’s most powerful radio telescope.

Once built, the SKA would become one of the premier radio astronomy facility in the world with stations located in Africa and Australia. Actually, radio telescopes are much more effective than optical telescopes because they work with signals at a longer wavelength and can work effectively in poor weather conditions. The radio telescopes can detect invisible gas and can reveal areas of space that may be fainted by cosmic dust.

Steven M. Crawford, SALT Science Data Manager, South African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO), told IANS that the collaboration includes the study of transient events, developing new technology for optical and radio telescopes, and future research with the SKA. It should be noted that The Southern African Large Telescope (SALT) is the largest optical telescope in Southern Hemisphere and SAAO operates it on behalf of the SALT foundation, which includes South Africa, Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics in Pune, India, and other international partners. Crawford further said that it is a very exciting time for South Africa-India collaboration especially with how quickly both the communities are growing.

Currently, MeerKAT, a 64-dish radio telescope is being built in South Africa. These 64 receptors of MeerKAT would eventually be integrated into the SKA. When the SKA gets fully operational around the 2020s, it will have a contingent of at least 3,000 dishes spread across a square kilometer spanning two countries. South and India are expected to get jointly involved in many future missions related to science and space.

An international team of researchers led by N. Gupta and R. Srianand of Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics (IUCAA), Pune, will use MeerKAT in its first five years of operations to carry out the MeerKAT Absorption Line Survey (MALS) to trace and study the evolution of galaxies. Prof Gupta explained that hydrogen is the most abundant element found in the Universe and it is due to hydrogen that stars and galaxies are formed. So, to know how galaxies are found, first it is important to figure out how gas is converted to stars and vice versa.

Cold gas is the key component of Universe. So, if the distribution of cold gas in galaxies is mapped, then it can be found out how galaxies had formed and evolved. The MeerKAT telescope will start function in full capacity in 2018, and over the five years, MALS is expected to produce around four petabytes (PB) of raw data and 12 PB of science data products.


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