Radio telescope project launched in Durban

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A cutting-edge Radio telescope project has been launched in Durban. It will map a third of the sky to probe two of the biggest mysteries in the universe.

These are dark energy and a phenomenon called “fast radio bursts” which are mysterious flashes of energy.

The project called ‘Hirax’ is spearheaded by a team of the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

It will use the more than a thousand dishes erected at the SKA site near Cranarvon to collect information over a four-year period.

Speaking at the launch, Science and Technology Minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane says the research project will have a number of spin-offs for ordinary people.

Kubayi-Ngubane says, “The elaborate process of establishing this instrument will break down barriers and create equity within the field of astrophysics by providing training in all phases of its implementation, including instrumentation development, instrument deployment, theoretical modelling and simulations and addressing big data challenges.”

One of the principals of the Hirax Project Professor Jonathan Sievers from McGill University in Canada says the research will generate 6.5 Terrabits of information per second, which is 10 times South Africa’s international bandwidth.

Sievers say this huge amount of data will have to be sifted through in real-time and analysed quickly.

University of KwaZulu-Natal doctoral student Sinehlanhla Sikhosana says they are exploring a number of strategies to deal with the amount of data.

Sinehlanhla Sikhosana says, “The student is working on compressing the data while it is observing. So, instead of saving large amounts of data, we look for interesting things and we chop out the data that we do not need.”