08 March 2017 11:30 - 12:30
Title: The Square Kilometre Array: Big Telescope, Big Science, Big Data
Author: Prof Russ Taylor
SKA Research in Radio Astronomy
University of Cape Town, and
University of the Western Cape
The Square Kilometre Array (SKA) is a next generation global radio telescope currently undergoing final design by a collaboration of institutions in 11 countries. The SKA will be one of the largest scientific projects ever undertaken, designed to answer some of the big questions of our time: What is Dark Energy? Was Einstein right about gravity? What is the nature of dark matter? Can we detect gravitational waves? When and how did the first stars and galaxies form? What was the origin of cosmic magnetic fields? How do Earth-like planets form? Is there life, intelligent or otherwise, elsewhere in the Universe? The SKA radio telescope dish array is coming to South Africa toward the end of this decade. When completed it will consist of thousands of radio antennas spread out over an area of thousands of kilometres in Southern Africa. The SKA will create 3D maps of the universe 10,000 times faster than any imaging radio telescope array ever built. Precursor telescopes based on SKA technologies are under construction here in South African and in Western Australia and will begin scientific investigations in late 2016. These developments foreshadow one of the most significant big data challenges of the coming decade and the beginning a new era of big data in radio astronomy.
The SKA journey begins in Africa with the MeerKAT, a 64-element array of 13.5-m offset parabolic antennas. MeerKAT is a precursor of the SKA mid-frequency dish array, and following several years of operation as a South African telescope will be incorporated into the SKA phase 1 facility. Construction of MeerKAT is well advanced at the African SKA central site on the South African Karoo plateau. The MeerKAT science program will consist of key-science, legacy-style, Large Survey Projects, plus open time available for new proposals. The Large Survey Projects are direct pathfinder to key science programs being planned for the SKA.
More about the author:
Russ Taylor received a B.Sc in Astronomy, from the University of Western Ontario in 1976, and a Ph.D. in Physics (Radio Astronomy) from the University of British Columbia in 1982. He is currently the Director of the newly established Inter-University Institute for Data Intensive Astronomy and a South African Joint Research Chair in Radio Astronomy at the University of Cape Town and University of the Western Cape. Before coming to South Africa in 2014, Professor Taylor was Professor of Astrophysics at the University of Calgary and Director of the three-university Institute for Space Imaging Science. Past positions include: Head of the Department of Physics and Astronomy University of Calgary, Visiting Scientist, U.S. National Radio Astronomy Observatory; Distinguished Visiting Scientist, Australian Commonwealth Industrial Research Organization; Research Associate, University of Manchester, Jodrell Bank Observatory; Research Associate, University of Groningen, Kapteyn Astronomical Laboratory; NSERC Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Toronto.
He has served on numerous national and international committees and boards. Among these are several that impact planning and development of astronomy world-wide, including President of the Radio Astronomy Division of the International Astronomical Union. He has played a leading role on Square Kilometre Array Project since its inception, serving as founding Executive Secretary of the International Square Kilometre, Array Steering Committee, founding chair of the International SKA Science Advisory Committee, vice-chair of the International SKA Science and Engineering Committee, and as a member of the International Board of the Preparatory Phase Program for the SKA and of the International Board of the SKA Organization. As the founding SKA International Project Scientist in 1998 he co-authored the first science case for the SKA project.
On the research side, Taylor has published over 200 professional scientific articles, and has edited five books. He has mentored over 50 young scientists in radio astrophysics and the techniques of radio imaging of the sky. One was awarded the Henri Chrétien International Research Award from the American Astronomical Society in 1993 for work carried out under his supervision, and one graduate student was award the Canadian Astronomical Society’s Plaskett Medal for the best Canadian Ph.D. thesis in Astronomy.
Taylor was the Canadian Co-principal Investigator on the VSOP space mission, an international partnership that launched into space a radio telescope for Very Long Baseline Interferometry imaging between Earth and space. As part of the mission he directed one of three international centres for processing of the VSOP mission data.