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Professor Mario Santos, director of the UWC/DST Centre for Radio Cosmology in the Department of Physics and Astronomy, presented a lecture at the recent Kavli Prize Symposium in Astrophysics in Oslo, Norway.
The Kavli Prize is viewed by many within the astrophysics field as possibly equivalent to a Nobel Prize in Astrophysics, and is awarded by the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters in co-operation with the Kavli Foundation. Three Kavli prizes, each worth $1 million, are awarded annually in the fields of astrophysics, nanoscience and neuroscience.
The awarding of the prizes is preceded by a symposium where leading scientists in the three fields are invited to give a general talk on their research areas in an effort to promote basic research as an intrinsic element of human nature and culture. In recognition of his international standing in astrophysics, Prof Santos was one of five distinguished scholars from around the world to present lectures at this year’s event in early September.
Prof Santos’s presentation, Probing the Large Scale Structure of the Universe at Radio Wavelengths, was based on the work his team at UWC are doing, studying how the next generation of large radio telescopes, like the MeerKAT– a precursor to the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) telescope – would be able to answer questions about cosmology and the birth of the first stars and galaxies.
“This research involves both analytical models and large scale numerical simulations as well as a good understanding of the telescopes’ set-up. The huge volumes of data that will be provided by these experiments also allow for unique and exciting ways to develop novel statistical analysis techniques,” Prof Santos was quoted by SKA South Africa.
“With the advent of new radio telescopes such as MeerKAT and, in the future, the SKA, a new window for cosmology has been opened up,” he added. “The SKA will allow us to go after the many questions that puzzle cosmologists at the moment – with unprecedented accuracy. It will also allow us to probe areas of cosmology we couldn’t before.”
His presentation described the different surveys that could be done and what researchers planned to tackle with them.
He said radio astronomy is an efficient way of seeing hundreds of millions of galaxies that traced the large-scale structure of space-time.
The method is also largely unaffected by dust and could make observations during both day and night. Large dishes– like those in South Africa and Australia – were required for this.
The Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder, or Askap, will be comprised of 32 dishes by 2018, and the MeerKAT project in the Karoo will include 64 dishes by the same time.
Santos said the different phases of the project would provide a large scale “movie” of the universe across cosmic time.
“The project has the broadest science range of any facility on or off Earth. Observations at radio wavelengths will soon produce a wealth of data with profound implications for cosmology.”
The understanding of cosmology has fundamental implications for the understanding of physics, and to our appreciation of the universe, and our place in it.
“After all, understanding our place in the universe and the universe itself has been a constant goal for mankind,” Santos concluded. “Asking questions is the first thing a scientist does – and that is something that anyone can do.”