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SKA gets Netherlands boost

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The Department of Science and Technology formalised its bilateral relations on science and technology (S&T) with the Netherlands.
Minister Naledi Pandor and the Dutch Minister of Agriculture, Martijn van Dam (standing in for Education, Culture and Science, Jet Bussemaker) signed the memorandum of understanding (MoU) during a trade mission to South Africa aimed at forging closer ties between the two countries. The mission, which involved 75 companies, was led by Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte.
Minister Pandor says the signing of the MoU with the Netherlands presented a great opportunity for strengthening and deepening the S&T relations between the two countries. Officials from both countries will now draw up a plan of action to implement the MoU.
Among other activities, key science institutions are partnering to bring astronomers closer to understanding the volume of data that will be generated by the Square Kilometre Array (SKA).
The SKA will be the world’s largest radio telescope, with a square kilometre (one million square metres) of collecting area. SKA South Africa is building the MeerKAT, a 64-antenna array radio telescope, as a precursor to the SKA.
SKA South Africa and the University of Cape Town (UCT), through the newly established Inter-University Institute for Data Intensive Astronomy (IDIA), are co-operating with Astron (the Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy) and IBM, in ground-breaking research that will be used to manage the immense amount of data that will be generated through the SKA.
Data centres will be established in each country to provide astronomers around the world with access to the large-scale data infrastructure and high-performance computing needed to make sense of the data.
“We assume that there will be at least two astronomy-focused sites, one in South Africa and one in the Netherlands,” says Professor Russ Taylor, IDIA founding director and SKA research chair at UCT and the University of the Western Cape.
Dr Jasper Horrell, GM: Science Computing and Innovation at SKA South Africa, says: “The activity, combining both operational and research components, is an important step on the path towards being able to extract major science value efficiently from the massive astronomical datasets that will be collected by the SKA.”
With South Africa’s MeerKAT and the Netherlands’ Apertif telescopes both expected to go online in 2016, the scale of data collection is set to increase significantly.