The ministry's public relations officer, Malepa Dibonwa, said the minister was to attend the SKA Consortium meeting on July 9-11, but it has been postponed. At the gathering, an update on the development of a proposed gigantic radio telescope that will hopefully shed light on the origin of the universe and detect the possible presence of extraterrestrial life will be given.Botswana is one of the southern African countries that will host this new scientific innovation project. Dibonwa said the tiresome job of identifying areas where the gigantic satellites will be located is almost done.
Dibonwa said: "The consortium has been postponed to a later date, but we expect to be briefed further by the major hosts on the development of the project from this meeting. Interestingly, we have already identified locations and the selection of such sites is yet to be finalised."Dibonwa further said the project has its master plan for the whole SKA project. The project is wholly financed by its initiators, so Botswana can only fund the preparations that we have to make to allow the execution of the project in our country. The ministry is excited to be part of this historical project that will see Botswana's education system benefiting."The University of Botswana has started benefiting from the project as they get free lectures from experts in the field and they are also getting high performance computers from the University of Texas. There would be more resources and experts coming to the country to share their knowledge in the form of lectures and presentations," he said.
He said as a research facility it would place Botswana in a position that it would be known by researchers who may have interest and help develop Botswana's research culture in general "Something that our Research, Science, Technology and Innovation (RSTI) policy want to achieve. We would be known also geographically, something that would expose us to other countries which may start having interest in Botswana with activities that would grow the economy. There would also be more benefits which would be long term nature and may not be easy to conceive as they would be best realised by research instructions," Dibonwa said.He added that UB Physics and Computer Science department have become active stakeholders in the project as they are tailor-making their courses to be more biased on astrophysics and high performance computers so that Batswana can benefit from the project as a source of employment.
He said that fourth year students who are interested in astrophysics are tutored to develop custom made radio telescopes within the university for their 4th year projects.However, South African minister Naledi Pandor had pledged in April, while meeting with Swartz in Botswana, that she will make available R2 million per year for four years.She said it was to fund scholarships for Batswana students wishing to pursue studies in radio telescope, astronomy and other science and technology courses relating to the study of the universe. Some adverts for such scholarships have already been floated in local newspapers for interested Batswana students to apply."Currently, four students have benefited from the SKA scholarships. They are currently studying in Durban, South Africa," Dibonwa noted.
When completed in 2024, the SKA project will be made up of 3,000 dishes, each 15 metres wide, together with many more antennas, that will stretch over 3,000 kms. In southern Africa, the central location will be at the Karoo site in the Northern Cape region of South Africa, about 95 kms from Carnarvon, with further dishes located in South Africa itself and in neighbouring African countries - Botswana, Namibia, Mozambique, Madagasgar, Mauritius and as far afield as Kenya and Ghana.
For Australia, the core site is proposed to be at Mileura Station, about 100 kms west of Meekathara in Western Australia. Other dishes will be distributed over the Australian continent with the possibility of extension into New Zealand. The $3.1 billion telescope, which has been described as "the biggest science project in the world", has been conceptualised since 1991, and is expected to begin construction in 2016.The Square Kilometer Array will be a revolutionary break from today's radio telescopes, with large telescopes for the 21st Century probing fundamental physics, the origin and evolution of the Universe, the structure of the Milky Way Galaxy, and the formation and distribution of planets.