SKA to reveal universe’s secrets

first_imgThe heart of the SKA, consisting of a phased array which will be able to observe the whole sky, surrounded by a compact arrangement of small dishes. (Image: Jodrell Bank Astrophysics Centre) Small receiving dishes with solid surfaces. (Image: SKA website) The SKA will unlock some of the long-held secrets of the origin of the universe. (Image: NASA archives)Janine ErasmusSouth Africa and Australia are the only two countries left on the shortlist to develop the most sensitive and advanced telescope in the world – the Square Kilometre Array, or SKA. Further studies of the two contending sites are currently underway and a decision on the project, which will cost about R20-billion, is likely to come in 2008.Once the host country has been named, it is expected that construction on the first stage of the telescope will take place between 2011 and 2014. The SKA will be ready for full operation by 2022.South Africa’s preparations are gathering pace. In March 2008 the team took possession of 14 000 ha of land in the Karoo, Northern Cape, for the proposed location of the core of the array. Further developments include the imminent signing into law of the Astronomy Geographic Advantage Bill, which has received final approval from the National Assembly in Parliament. Once passed the bill allows the minister of science and technology to declare a 12.5-million ha portion of the Northern Cape province as a reserve that is radio frequency-free across all wavelengths.By January 2009 it is anticipated that an on-site facility here will be up and running, followed shortly by the installation of power and fibre optic networks. The main control centre, located in Cape Town, will go live in December 2009.Bringing African partners togetherA conference held in Johannesburg in April 2008 saw engineers and scientists from all over Africa coming together to give further impetus to the bid, which will be a scientific boost not only for South Africa but for the entire continent. This follows a conference in Australia earlier in the month, where the preparatory stage of the SKA project, known as PrepSKA, was launched. South Africa presented a report on its bid progress, which was reportedly well received by delegates, among them representatives from international funding agencies as well as government officials, industrialists and scientific professionals.South Africa has also conducted talks with neighbouring countries to bring them in as hosting partners on the SKA project, at the same time giving them the opportunity to initiate relevant science programmes at home. At the recent Johannesburg conference the countries agreed in principle to enter into bilateral programmes relating to SKA with South Africa, including the mutual development of skills and technology.Meanwhile the international scientific community is gearing up to collaborate in the development of the mega-scope, which will consist of more than 3 000 individual dishes with a total receiving area of approximately one million square metres, or one square kilometre. Analysis of all the data pouring in will require powerful computing and super-fast data networks.SKA is expected to help astronomers understand the Dark Ages, the period during the universe’s formation when only gaseous forms existed, before stars and galaxies took shape. The Dark Ages existed from about 300 000 to one billion years after the so-called Big Bang, and it was only towards the end of this period that young galaxies began to form. What happened in between remains a scientific mystery.Current technology struggles to pick up the radio signals emitted during this time because they are so faint. The SKA, with its highly sensitive antennae and receiving area that is one hundred times more extensive than the largest receiving surface in existence at the moment, is designed to answer these scientific questions. By studying the properties of the first luminous objects in the universe SKA will be able to provide hitherto unknown details about them.Project leader Dr Bernie Fanaroff described the SKA as having the capability to provide an image of the universe as it was 14 billion years ago. “SKA is the world’s biggest ICT project,” he said.A southern hemisphere location for SKASouth Africa’s bid is one of four submitted in December 2005. The other three came from Australia, China, and Argentina/Brazil, and were evaluated by the International SKA Steering Committee (ISSC). Physics professor Justin Jonas of Rhodes University is South Africa’s representative on the panel.South Africa came in as a late bidder but, says Science and Technology Minister Mosibudi Mangena, the country has excelled itself in becoming one of the two shortlisted candidates. The location for the central core of the array will be in the Northern Cape province, with outer stations extending away from it in a spiral pattern. “If the SKA is built in South Africa, the face of the Northern Cape will be transformed, and the province will have the opportunity to become a centre of high-tech expertise,” says Mangena.According to SKA South Africa, the country is in a strong position to secure the bid for a number of reasons. It is still cost-effective for overseas companies to invest in South Africa, with its comparatively cheap electricity and affordable labour. There is a strong network of infrastructure such as roads and communication, much of which is already in place.The geographical location is ideal, with a dry climate, ample coverage of the sky and minimal interference from sources such as mobile phones and air traffic.South Africa’s academic resources to support the SKA are excellent, and with other important related sites such as the Southern African Large Telescope at Sutherland in the Karoo, and the HESS gamma ray telescope in Namibia, the region is making a name for itself as a player in the field of astronomy.With the SKA located in South Africa, high-level skills in this field will be needed. The Department of Science and Technology, from as far back as 2006, has made funding available for graduate study specifically centred on the SKA and its component, the Karoo Array Telescope (KAT), affectionately known as MeerKAT. A meerkat is a type of mongoose that belongs to the species Suricata suricatta. The name is Afrikaans and means marsh cat, although they are neither cats nor marsh-dwellers but rather live in dry regions of Southern Africa.South Africa will become a major centre for fundamental physics, astronomy and engineering, says Mangena, attracting the best scientists and engineers in the world. This will contribute more momentum to the development of skills and expertise in the field, giving South Africa the ability to contribute to the global knowledge market.Finding the best locationNot many countries are suited to host the SKA because the core of the array must be located in a suitably remote area so that transmissions from televisions and mobile phones, which fall into the same frequency band, won’t interfere with the reception – 100 km of radio signal-free space all around is the minimum requirement.In addition, the array cannot be situated between 25o N and 25o S. This excludes almost the entire area of the earth between the Tropic of Cancer, which lies at 23° 26′ 21″ N, and the Tropic of Capricorn which lies at 23° 26′ 21″ S. In this region, known as the tropics, the ionosphere – the uppermost part of the atmosphere – is particularly sensitive to variations in the sun’s light and electromagnetic radiation passing through it is more likely to be disrupted. This phenomenon is caused by the equatorial electrojet, a moving band of electric current that flows in an easterly direction around the equatorial region of the ionosphere during the day.The core also needs to be conveniently close to major centres. Finally, the array must be positioned away from the earth’s poles so that it can cover a large enough portion of the sky.The SKA South Africa array will cover most of Southern Africa. The core and its surrounding central sites will extend in a radius of 150 km around it, with remote sites situated further than 150 km. Some of these are as far afield as Madagascar, Mauritius, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Zambia, with one each in Kenya and Ghana.SKA is underwaySouth Africa has already embarked on the road to SKA with the construction of MeerKAT near Carnarvon in the Northern Cape. MeerKAT is a SKA prototype which cost almost R900-million to develop. Consisting initially of a single dish built at the Hartebeesthoek Radio Astronomy Observatory in Gauteng, the second stage is now in development. This is the KAT-7 with seven 12 m dishes, and the final stage, likely to be commissioned in 2009, will consist of 80 such dishes when completed in 2012.MeerKAT will be developed into the SKA, should South Africa receive the green light for the project. The facility will boast cutting-edge technology which will enable it to explore such unknown factors as dark matter, and the evolution of galaxies.Related storiesAfrican eyes on the universeUseful linksSKA South AfricaSKA telescopeMeerKATHartebeesthoek Radio Astronomy ObservatoryDepartment of Science and TechnologySouth African space portalNational Research Foundationlast_img read more

Beck’s invites guests to research facility during FSR

first_imgShare Facebook Twitter Google + LinkedIn Pinterest While you’re at this year’s Farm Science Review, it might be worth you time to stop by and visit the new Beck’s facilities, just east of The Molly Caren Ag Center. The Ohio Ag Net’s Ty Higgins ran into Sonny Beck at Farm Science Review and learned more about the research and growth at Beck’s.last_img

Facebook owns Instagram and WhatsApp and plans to make that obvious

first_img Facebook Tags Originally published Aug. 2, 3:31 p.m. PT.Update, 3:47 p.m.: Adds information about where the rebranding will appear. Share your voice Mobile Tech Industrycenter_img Facebook said Friday that it plans to rebrand Instagram and WhatsApp.  Angela Lang/CNET Facebook plans to rebrand Instagram and WhatsApp so users know they’re from the social network, a move that highlights how the company is exerting more control over its acquisitions. The apps will say “Instagram from Facebook” and “WhatsApp from Facebook.””We want to be clearer about the products and services that are part of Facebook,” Bertie Thomson, a Facebook spokeswoman, said in a statement Friday. She said the change is currently rolling out slowly and more and more users will start to see the rebranding. The rebranding will appear on Instagram’s and WhatsApp’s login screens and in app store descriptions for the two apps, Thomson said. The Information, which earlier reported the rebranding, cited three people familiar with the matter and said some employees are surprised and confused about the upcoming change.Facebook, which has been dealing with a series of privacy and security scandals, allows Instagram and WhatsApp to operate independently and the apps don’t bear the Facebook name. But the apps are also going to become more intertwined with one another in the future. The social network is trying to make it possible for users who use Facebook Messenger, Instagram direct message and WhatsApp to send messages to each other without having to switch apps.Though Facebook purchased both apps years ago, many consumers don’t know the social network owns both Instagram and WhatsApp. The change comes as the Federal Trade Commission is investigating Facebook over antitrust concerns. The FTC is looking into whether Facebook’s purchases of companies such as Instagram and WhatsApp were part of a strategy on the part of the social media giant to stifle competition, according to a report this week from The Wall Street Journal. Post a comment 0last_img read more

Paleoecologists suggest mass extinction due to huge methane release

first_img Global warming led to atmospheric hydrogen sulfide and permian extinction © 2010 Explore further ( — Micha Ruhl and colleagues from the University of Copenhagen’s Nordic Center for Earth Evolution have published a paper in Science where they contend that the mass extinction that occurred at the end of the Triassic period, was due to a “sudden” increase in the amount of methane in the atmosphere due to the effects of global warning that resulted from the spewing of carbon dioxide from volcanoes. Citation: Paleoecologists suggest mass extinction due to huge methane release (2011, July 22) retrieved 18 August 2019 from More information: Atmospheric Carbon Injection Linked to End-Triassic Mass Extinction, Science 22 July 2011: Vol. 333 no. 6041 pp. 430-434 DOI:10.1126/science.1204255ABSTRACTThe end-Triassic mass extinction (~201.4 million years ago), marked by terrestrial ecosystem turnover and up to ~50% loss in marine biodiversity, has been attributed to intensified volcanic activity during the break-up of Pangaea. Here, we present compound-specific carbon-isotope data of long-chain n-alkanes derived from waxes of land plants, showing a ~8.5 per mil negative excursion, coincident with the extinction interval. These data indicate strong carbon-13 depletion of the end-Triassic atmosphere, within only 10,000 to 20,000 years. The magnitude and rate of this carbon-cycle disruption can be explained by the injection of at least ~12 × 103 gigatons of isotopically depleted carbon as methane into the atmosphere. Concurrent vegetation changes reflect strong warming and an enhanced hydrological cycle. Hence, end-Triassic events are robustly linked to methane-derived massive carbon release and associated climate change. Prior to this research, most scientists have believed that the sudden extinction of nearly half of all life forms on the planet was due solely to the emissions from volcanic eruptions that were occurring in what was to become the Atlantic Ocean. Ruhl et al contend that instead, what happened, was that the small amount of atmospheric heating that occurred due to the exhaust from the volcanoes, caused the oceans to warm as well, leading to the melting of ice crystals at the bottom of the sea that were holding on to methane created by the millions of years of decomposing sea life. When the ice crystals melted, methane was released, which in turn caused the planet to warm even more, which led to more methane release in a chain reaction, that Ruhl says, was the real reason for the mass extinction that led to the next phase in world history, the rise of dinosaurs. Ruhl and his team base their assertions on studies they’ve made of the isotopes of carbon in plants (found in what is now the Austrian Alps) that existed during the period before the mass extinction. In so doing they found two different types of carbons and the molecules that were produced during that time frame. After extensive calculations, Ruhl and his team came to the conclusion that some 12,000 gigatons of methane would have had to have been pumped into the atmosphere to account for the differences in the isotopes; something the team believes could only have happened if the methane were to come from the sea floor.This new research, though dire sounding, may or may not have implications for modern Earth. While it is true that humans have pumped significant amounts of carbon into the atmosphere, amounts that are approaching what Ruhl and his team say led to the earlier methane release, it doesn’t necessarily mean we are on the same path, because as Ruhl points out, things are much different today, the very structure of the planet has changed so much that it would be impossible to transfer what might have been learned about events in Earth’s history 200 million years ago, to what is going on today. This wide angle view of the Earth is centered on the Atlantic Ocean between South America and Africa. This document is subject to copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study or research, no part may be reproduced without the written permission. The content is provided for information purposes only.last_img read more

MIT professor creates reality TV series of his daily life

first_img Major cities must unite against climate change: Paris mayor © 2017 Citation: MIT professor creates reality TV series of his daily life (2017, March 27) retrieved 18 August 2019 from Shot from In My Shoes. Credit: Cesar Hidalgo (—”What if the Kardashians were physicists?” asks César Hidalgo, an associate professor at MIT and director of the Collective Learning group at the MIT Media Lab.center_img This document is subject to copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study or research, no part may be reproduced without the written permission. The content is provided for information purposes only. Fortunately they’re not, but that odd-sounding blend might be the best way to imagine Hidalgo’s new project: a video series called “In My Shoes” that documents his professional life as a researcher and his personal life as a husband and father of a young daughter. The final product—eight episodes ranging in length from 10 to 20 minutes—can be viewed at “The goal of the series is to help show younger people considering an academic career what the day-to-day of the life of a scholar is like,” he said. “Personally, I think that this would have been very useful to me 20 years ago, when I was considering an academic career but had no role models in Chile.”Hidalgo self-recorded his life over the course of three months in 2016. During that time, he traveled extensively—from Boston to Washington, D.C.; Saudi Arabia; Switzerland; Portland; Monterrey; and Paris. One of the major projects that Hidalgo was working on at the time was DataUSA, a website that presents all kinds of data (economic, demographic, health, education, housing, etc.) in a visual, rapidly digestible way. It’s intended to provide information for policymakers, business owners, students, and job-seekers.The video series, however, is not intended to inform us of the technical details of such projects. Instead we get an inside look at what’s it like to actually be the person developing and sharing these projects, complete with all of the thoughts and concerns that any ordinary person would have. Hidalgo’s narration is thoughtful, entertaining, modest, and—when it comes to what jet lag feels like after 24 hours of travel—painfully sincere. It’s a unique and personal perspective of the academic life that breaks down the traditional stereotypes—especially as we learn that even MIT professors find it challenging to dress a two-year-old in the morning. Explore furtherlast_img read more