Science and technology minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane is on Friday expected to launch an astronomy telescope at the University of the North West (NWU), a first for a previously disadvantaged university, her department said.
“The Mahikeng Astronomy Telescope will put the university on a par with developed institutions such as the universities of the Western Cape and Cape Town,” department spokesperson Hlengiwe Nhlabathi said in a statement.
“It also demonstrates the country’s growing capabilities in the field, led by world-class projects like the building of the Square Kilometre Array radio telescope, which is exciting the global scientific community.”
The telescope is co-funded by the department of science and technology and is an effort to develop astronomy and related sciences at universities historically disadvantaged due to South Africa’s apartheid past.
Housed at the Mahikeng Astronomical Observatory, it will be operated remotely to allow learners and educators to access it from anywhere in the country.
The telescope will be used for bright star research, allowing astronomers at the Mahikeng campus to study the interiors of stars, and their evolution. It will also be used for outreach purposes in communities across the country.
The university’s programme is led by Professor Thebe Medupe, who started astronomy at the university’s physics department in 2010, attracting students and postdoctoral fellows to NWU.
”The physics department has four astronomers with PhDs, one student completing his PhD and two space scientists, as well as many other physicists,” said Nhlabathi.
“Several top astronomers have also been to the campus to do research, demonstrating that the programme has a potential for further growth.”