Ghana, South Africa celebrate first success of African network of telescopes

4th July 2017 By: Anine Kilian - Contributing Editor Online

Ghana and South Africa have announced the combination of 'first light' science observations, confirming the successful conversion of a Ghana communications antenna from a redundant telecommunications instrument into a functioning Very Long Baseline Interferometry (VLBI) radio telescope.

Ghana is the first partner country of the African VLBI Network (AVN) to complete the conversion of a communications antenna into a functioning radio telescope.

The 32 m converted telecommunications antenna at the Ghana Intelsat Satellite Earth Station, at Kutunse, will be integrated into the AVN in preparation for the second phase construction of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) across the African continent.

SKA antenna dishes will be built in South Africa, as well as in eight African partner countries, namely Botswana, Ghana, Kenya, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia and Zambia.

The combination of 'first light' science observations included Methanol Maser detections, VLBI fringe testing and pulsar observations.

Reaching these three objectives confirm that the instrument can operate as a single dish radio telescope and also as part of global VLBI network observations, such as the European VLBI network.

"The Ghanaian government warmly embraces the prospect of radio astronomy in the country and our radio astronomy development plan forms part of the broader Ghana science, technology and innovation development plan," Ghana Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation Minister Professor Kwabena Frimpong-Boateng said.

The South African Department of International Relations and Cooperation has been funding a large part of the conversion of the Ghanaian communications antenna into a radio telescope through the African Renaissance and International Cooperation Fund.

"The African Renaissance Fund is aimed at strengthening cooperation between South Africa and other African countries and to support the development of skills and build institutional capacity on the continent," International Relations and Cooperation Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane noted.

The next SKA AVN Ministerial Forum will be held in Accra, Ghana, in August, when the Kutunse radio telescope will officially be launched.