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No date for next telescope since first light at Kuntunse

Images (l-r): Morganoshell [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia; Horia Varlan [CC BY 2.0], via Flickr; stock photo

There is no indication which African country will be the next to unveil a fully functional radio telescope as part of a continental collaboration to build a long baseline astronomy network.

The African Very Long Baseline Interferometry Network is a project in which Botswana, Ghana, Kenya, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia and Zambia refurbish telecommunications dishes as telescopes, or build new ones—chiefly to train young astronomers.

These projects will link with South Africa’s MeerKAT and could eventually become part of the SKA. Ghana’s dish at Kuntunse outside the capital, Accra, saw first light in July 2017.

However, representatives of the African partner countries in the AVN project did not want to be drawn on which would be the next to produce an operational telescope.

South African science minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane said more discussions would precede the decision, while Rob Adam, South Africa Radio Astronomy Observatory head, hinted that more work will be needed.

“Clearly when the project finally goes ahead, there will be reassessments,” he said.

Adam said that even proposed sites might change according to needs and that it was up to the AVN partners to find “the best location for everyone”.

Funding is a limiting factor. Kubayi-Ngbane said countries are looking at ways to find more funding when the initial allocation for the AVN project runs out in March 2019.

According to Adam, most countries are still busy assessing suitable sites and telescopes for refurbishment, as well as conducting high-performance computing training. He said that Zambia has secured a site, while a post-meeting declaration noted that Madagascar is “ready to commence conversion”. One of these two countries is likely to be the next to have a functional telescope.

Kenya is playing catch-up to the other countries, having signed the memorandum of understanding from the 2017 meeting only in May 2018. It is also still waiting to receive its high performance computing training infrastructure.