South Africa Radio Astronomy Observatory Launches e-Learning Platform

The South African Radio Astronomy Observatory (SARAO) is launching an e-learning platform offering online teaching and training resources in radio astronomy.

The e-learning platform aims to support the growing community of students and young researchers researching astronomy at universities in South Africa and the eight Square Kilometre Array Africa partner countries.

The platform allows young researchers to develop their skills in radio astronomy, enabling them to participate in research with the MeerKAT telescope, and other international radio astronomy facilities.

The e-learning platform provides online teaching and learning content on various radio astronomy-related topics, including the fundamentals of radio interferometry – an introduction to the techniques required to extract science from telescope arrays such as MeerKAT – and software tools for radio astronomy, for example, GitHub for Astronomers. These topics and content were developed in collaboration with the Rhodes University Centre for Radio Astronomy Techniques and Technologies.

The platform will also host online workshops and schools, such as the annual African Radio Interferometry Winter School, which will be run using the new online format this year. The School introduces radio astronomy concepts to young researchers with hands-on practical sessions using MeerKAT data.

The knowledge acquired by students at the School is taken back to their home institutions. It promotes the future participation of young researchers in scientific research projects with MeerKAT and other radio astronomy telescopes. A space for the MeerKAT student community is also available on the platform, presenting a collection of lectures and training videos addressing all aspects of radio astronomy and the MeerKAT telescope.

The launch of the e-learning platform coincides with the current larger global move to online learning, mainly as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. The SARAO Programme Manager: Strategic Partnerships for Human Capacity Development, Dr Bonita de Swardt says: “It is the opportune time to provide this service to the South African and African radio astronomy students, given the escalated need for teaching resources which students can access remotely. In these unprecedented times, it is crucial for students to exercise self-learning, and to take ownership of their learning using online educational platforms.”

An e-seminar series of public talks will also be facilitated on the platform focusing on developments increasing the radio astronomy footprint on the African continent through scientific, technical and human capital advancements. The series kicks off with a talk on MeerKAT’s ability to search for intelligent life.

This talk will be given by Dr Daniel Czech, who is currently a postdoctoral researcher with the Breakthrough Listen project team based at the University of California, Berkeley, USA. The talk can be accessed here.

The SARAO e-learning platform can be accessed at https://www.sarao.ac.za/e-learning-platform. Courses and educational resources offered on the e-learning platform will be updated regularly.

For any comments or questions on the e-learning platform, please email elearning@ska.ac.za.

About SARAO

The South African Radio Astronomy Observatory (SARAO), a facility of the National Research Foundation, is responsible for managing all radio astronomy initiatives and facilities in South Africa, including the MeerKAT Radio Telescope in the Karoo, and the Geodesy and VLBI activities at the HartRAO facility. SARAO also coordinates the African Very Long Baseline Interferometry Network (AVN) for the eight SKA partner countries in Africa, as well as South Africa’s contribution to the infrastructure and engineering planning for the Square Kilometre Array Radio Telescope. To maximise the return on South Africa’s investment in radio astronomy, SARAO is managing programmes to create capacity in radio astronomy science and engineering research, and the technical capacity required to support site operations.

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