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Exploring The Universe With The African-European Radio Astronomy Platform
by Staff Writers
Brussels, Belgium (SPX) Jun 13, 2012

Recent discussions have focused on how the radio astronomy community could best leverage Africa-EU funding opportunities, resulting from this favourable policy environment, for scientific and education cooperation, including researcher mobility and student and staff exchange programmes, as well as industrial partnerships in areas such as ICT, energy and advanced manufacturing.

A workshop on funding opportunities for African-European radio astronomy partnerships brought together Members of the European Parliament, officials of the European Commission and the European Investment Bank, as well as leading African and European radio astronomers and representatives of global industry, to discuss how to further develop cooperation in radio astronomy between Africa and Europe.

The workshop took place days after the SKA (Square Kilometre Array) Organisation decided that the South Africa, along with its eight SKA partner countries in Africa, will host the mid-frequency dish array and dense aperture array of the iconic SKA radio telescope. The fruitful meeting ended with an elaboration of next steps to establish a dedicated African-European Radio Astronomy Platform (AERAP) vehicle to enhance cooperation.

Radio astronomy is recognised as one of the disciplines with the most exciting potential for building Africa's science and technology capacities and is also an area of great strategic importance for the future of research in Europe. The workshop "Leveraging new funding opportunities for African-European Astronomy partnerships - Realizing the objectives of the European Parliament's Written Declaration 45/2011" followed a landmark decision for the international astronomy community.

On 25 May 2012 the Members of the SKA Organisation agreed to construct two of the three SKA receiver components in Africa (with the other located in Australia and New Zealand). The SKA will be about 50 - 100 times more sensitive than any other radio telescope. Its construction is expected to cost about 1.5 billion Euros.

Dr Michiel van Haarlem, Interim Director General of SKA Organisation: "We are looking forward to working together with African colleagues on the SKA. This will be part of a global collaboration with African countries, Australia and New Zealand."

Prof George Miley, Vice President of the International Astronomical Union and International Coordinator of the EU Universe Awareness project: "Astronomy is a unique instrument for development.

It links cutting edge technologies, frontier sciences and our deepest cultural layers. South Africa has been a role model for the International Astronomical Union in exploiting astronomy for capacity building. A large part of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) will be built in Africa. This will be enormous iconic project for Africa, Europe and World and an enormous boost for capacity building in Africa."

During the workshop recent policy developments in EU-Africa cooperation, such as a European Parliament Written Declaration and an African Union Assembly Decision, which endorsed radio astronomy as a priority focus area for Africa-EU cooperation, were presented.

Discussions focused on how the radio astronomy community could best leverage Africa-EU funding opportunities, resulting from this favourable policy environment, for scientific and education cooperation, including researcher mobility and student and staff exchange programmes, as well as industrial partnerships in areas such as ICT, energy and advanced manufacturing.

Prof Luis Magalhaes, Co-Chair of the Africa-EU Science, Information Society and Space Partnership Joint Expert Group: "Cooperation in radio astronomy is very interesting for Europe and Africa. It involves science, technology and communication aspects.

It is relevant in regard to the Africa-EU Partnership on Science, Information Society and Space, as it touches all its components. It has important economic and social benefits in the mutual interest of both continents."

The workshop also heralded the first steps towards the creation of the African-European Radio Astronomy Platform (AERAP). AERAP is a response to the calls of the European Parliament, which through the adoption of the Written Declaration 45/2011, and of the Heads of State of the African Union, through their decision "Assembly/AU/Dec.407 CXVIII", called for radio astronomy to be a priority focus area for Africa-EU cooperation.

AERAP will provide a framework for stakeholders from the scientific community, industry and academia on both continents to initiate cooperation initiatives across the wide range of scientific disciplines and technological areas that will be essential for the future of radio astronomy in both Africa and Europe.

Prof Dr Michael Kramer, Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy: "This meeting is an important and major step for consolidation of partnerships that exist and to build those that are going to happen. It is tremendous to see what Africa achieved in the past years. We are looking forward to be a strong partner in the SKA and related activities."

Dr Huib Jan van Langevelde, director of The Joint Institute for VLBI in Europe (JIVE): "It is exciting to have partnership with African countries and to contribute to an excellent science and geographical link. We have been partners with South Africa for a long time. We would like this to be a start of partnership with other African countries as well."

The overall goals of AERAP will be to leverage cooperation in radio astronomy as an instrument to advance scientific discovery, to improve knowledge transfer and education, and to promote development and competitiveness in Africa and Europe.

The platform will not be exclusive and will also seek to contribute to building broader global partnerships in radio astronomy. Stakeholder consultations similar to the Brussels workshop will be conducted in Africa during the next few months. It is envisioned that AERAP will be formally established before the end of 2012.


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