India and South Africa have decided to expand their reach in tracing the evolution of galaxies. India decided to participate in the multi-nation Square Kilometre Array (SKA) in a bid to make world's most powerful radio telescope.
It will be the premier radio astronomy facility in which locations will be located in Africa and Australia. It will be different from optical telescopes, provide a different feature to India.
Optical telescopes can be hampered by cloud or poor wealth conditions on Earth, radio telescopes will work with signals at a longer wavelength and it can be used even in cloudy skies.
“Research areas that India and South Africa have been collaborating on including the study of transient events, developing new technology for optical and radio telescopes, and future research with the SKA,” Steven M. Crawford, SALT Science Data Manager, South African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO).
The Southern African Large Telescope (SALT) is the largest optical telescope in Southern Hemisphere and SAAO operates it on behalf of the SALT foundation, which includes South Africa, Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics in Pune, India, and other international partners.
Crawford notes “it is a very exciting time for South Africa-India collaboration especially with how quickly both the communities are growing”.
Radio telescopes can help in find invisible gas and can reveal areas of space that may be obscured by cosmic dust. MeerKAT, a 64-dish precursor radio telescope to SKA, is currently being built in South Africa.
“Galaxies are made up of gas (hydrogen) and stars, and in order to understand how galaxies evolved, we need to understand how gas is converted to stars and vice versa. To understand star formation, the key component of gas in galaxies is the cold gas component,” Gupta.
It is this gas component, which eventually collapses under gravity to form stars. “So if we map the distribution of the cold gas in galaxies, we can understand how galaxies had formed and evolved,” Gupta said.
From 2018, MeerKAT telescope will start functioning at full capacity. Over five years, MALS will produce four petabytes (PB) of raw data and 12 PB of science data products i.e. images and spectra.
“The main challenge is to deal with this large amount of data in terms of transfer from South Africa to IUCAA and then process it,” Gupta explained.
“Traditional methods of data processing will not scale to petabytes of data from next-generation astronomy projects. A close collaboration with SKA South Africa has been set up to deal with this challenge.
For MALS, we are exploring new methods of data processing that lie at the crossroads of traditional astronomy, applied mathematics, and computer science technologies,” he said.
A radio astronomy data processing and the archiving facility is being set-up at the IUCAA to automatically process and serve the data from MALS.
“Both the data processing facility and the big data solutions will be made publicly available to the community,” he said.
Gupta said it’s a win-win situation for both nations.
“The telescopes are remembered for the discoveries they make and by setting up teams involving scientists across the world, the MeerKAT can be used to the best of its capacity.”