SA launches into space science


11 March 2003

South Africa has a long history of excellence in astronomy, a sound high-tech infrastructure and clear skies. But southern Africa’s rich, diversified expertise in astrophysics and space science has never been available to students in one place – until now.

Researchers from around the region have joined forces to create a cooperative, combined programme where South African students – and students from around Africa – can earn Honours and Masters degrees while being mentored and taught by a “dream team” of South Africa’s leading scientists.

The National Astrophysics and Space Science Programme (NASSP) draws on scientists from 13 institutions: the universities of Cape Town, Orange Free State, Natal, Zululand, North West, Rhodes, and Potchefstroom, as well as the University of South Africa, the South African Astronomical Observatory, Hartebeesthoek Radio Observatory, Hermanus Magnetic Observatory and iThembaLab. Others are likely to join in as well.

For the first five years, starting this year, NASSP will be hosted by the University of Cape Town. Lecturers from other institutions will spend time at UCT, working with students in their specialties before returning to home base.

Student graduating from this programme will be both equipped to do research at the cutting edge of astrophysics and have the broad science skills needed in any modern technological society.

Lectures will cover most areas of modern astronomy, astrophysics and cosmology. In addition, students will be expected to take a substantial practical component, which will involve several field trips to southern Africa’s space science research facilities.

These will include the Southern African Large Telescope, the largest optical telescope in the southern hemisphere, still under construction; HESS, a new, powerful telescope array for studying gamma rays and cosmic rays in Namibia; as well as the existing optical/infrared telescopes at Sutherland and the radio telescope at Hartebeesthoek.

This unique new opportunity in southern Africa aims at providing highly skilled people who will be in demand in fields ranging from aerospace to financial services to telecommunications – all areas where astronomers trained overseas have been successful.

Other graduates will join the growing community of African researchers who will use the continent’s new, “giant eyes” to explore the Universe – our environment on the grandest possible scale.

Source: National Astrophysics and Space Science Programme

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