May 25, 2012
So the news is out : the SKA site decision has finally been made. It was on Beeb TV , with Pallab Ghosh meandering around Jodders, triffic fun. The official SKA announcement is here and the South African Minister’s statement is here. Wommers emitted a tweet announcing that he needed a beer, so it must have been hard work in the closing stages.
They have gone for a dual-site solution. Some have suggested that this a political compromise, which could be seen as weak or as eminently sensible, depending on your point of view. Others have worried that a dual site solution will increase cost and complexity. Yet others (eg Pallab Ghosh in a tweet) have suggested that basically the Australians have been thrown a bone, with most of the antennae being located in SA.
I think these are all wrong. Whatever the actual reasoning was behind the decision, the result is that the project will build two complementary telescopes, building on the technology leads already taken by the two hosts. South Africa will build a long-baseline high resolution single pixel type array, aiming at small deep fields. Most of the cosmologists willl love this. Oz will build a lower resolution wide field array, with beam forming and focal plane arrays, aimed at the maximum possible mapping speed for large areas. Well Jeez, that sounds like a good plan. The antennae ? Well, they are all coming from China anyway. (They are building their own low frequency array by the way…)
The only danger is that this arrangement will devolve into two distinct projects, or that one collapses while the other gets the money. But as long as the partners are determined to stick together…
So. Anyhoo. From the SCIENCE point of view, this looks to me like a GOOD PLAN.
June 28, 2010
I am sure most of you will remember the recent strange episode in South African astronomy, with SAAO Phil Charles being suspended for … err… well, it was never really clear exactly what he was suspended for. He endured a several day hearing behind closed doors and was publicly cleared. Except that the layer above SAAO, the NRF, said “well, anyway, we still reckon there’s issues, see”. But then the layer above them, the Ministry, said “I think you’ll find we all agree Professor Charles was cleared of all charges”. See my last update.
Now it seems madness is breaking out again. On January 26th SABC reported a partial eclipse, with nice warm quotes from Phil and the Science Minister about how important astronomy is for inspiring youth. However the day before, SABC reported NRF officials as stating darkly that financial irregularities in the running of SALT were being investigated at the request of the parliamentary Science and Technology Committee. Apparently the committee has “received a detailed report” from the NRF.
Now it gets really weird. Yesterday morning (June 29th) a member of that committee (the shadow minister for science) was reported as saying “eh wot pardon ? No such investigation, no such report”.
A little birdie tells me that today there will be a press release from NRF explaining all.
March 7, 2010
Regular readers will be aware of the Phil Charles suspension issue. The attached NRF press release has come to my attention; it seems that both the accusation and defense sides have been heard, and the Chairman of the hearing has now retired to consider his verdict … due at the end of the coming week.
Initially many of us had assumed that the hearing would be a one day affair. Then it gradually became clear that it would be spread over multiple days, followed by this consideration period. It seemed to be pretty formal and legalistic, but with the defense case heard BEFORE the accusations, which seems quite bizarre. Halfway through, there was an attempted intervention by the Science Minister, Naledi Pandor, as described in this piece in the Mail and Guardian. This shows I guess that the shocked international reaction has made a difference.
But at the end of the day it may come down to judgement by senior NRF staff. None of us know exactly what happened, or what the NRF rule book says; just that firing an honourable figure like Charles on a technicality would be a mistake – politically, managerially, and morally.
Cross fingers for the final run.