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What It Means for Ghana to Own a Radio Telescope

Ghana’s desire to become a space-faring nation became a reality when it successfully deployed its first satellite (GhanaSat -1) into orbit on 7th July 2017. The successful launch of the satellite has put Ghana on the International Map as the first country in Sub-Saharan Africa to launch an academic satellite into space; paving way for the country to explore the full benefits of satellite technology.

A little over a month later, the country has had its first radio telescope launched. On Thursday, the 24th August 2017, Ghana’s president, Nana Addo Danquah Akuffo-Addo, launched the Ghana Astronomy Radio Observatory at Kuntunse. According to the President, “The radio telescope being launched will expand further our frontiers in space science. I am informed that the radio telescope will provide information from distant bodies in the universe that will help us understand the birth and formation of stars, the death of stars and the general structure of the universe.”

The governments of Ghana and South Africa announced the combination of ‘first light’ science observations which confirm the successful conversion of the Ghana communications antenna from a redundant telecoms instrument into a functioning Very Long Baseline Interferometer (VLBI) radio telescope.

What does it mean for Ghana to have a radio telescope?

Ghana is the first partner country of the African Very Large Baseline Interferometer (VLBI) Network (AVN) to complete the conversion of a communications antenna into a functioning radio telescope. South Africa and Australia will host the Square Kilometer Array (SKA) which, when completed in 2030, will be the largest radio telescope in the world.

“While South Africa has been instrumental in converting the dish, Ghana owns the telescope and is responsible for its operations and maintenance,” says Anita Loots, associate director of special projects for SKA South Africa. Ghana will also direct the science undertaken on the telescope.

Making reference to the recent, successful launch into orbit of GhanaSat-1, a satellite developed by three students from All Nations University College, a private university in Koforidua, in partnership with their Japanese counterparts at Kyushu Institute of Technology (KIT), President Akufo-Addo noted that it is an indication that Ghana abounds in talent and success, and Government is very pleased to see Ghanaian talents shining, with even greater promise for the future.

SKA will also include satellite stations in eight African partner countries: Botswana, Ghana, Kenya, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, and Zambia. Currently, these countries have limited astronomy capabilities. But that is what the African VLBI Network aims to change. Although the refurbished Ghanaian telescope will not form part of the SKA, it has been heralded as a way to develop skills in Ghana and to enable the country to contribute to global science.

So what then is a radio telescope and what does it mean for Ghana to own a radio telescope?

According to Wikipedia “A radio telescope is a specialized antenna and radio receiver used to receive radio waves from astronomical radio sources in the sky in radio astronomy. Radio telescopes are the main observing instrument used in radio astronomy, which studies the radio frequency portion of the electromagnetic spectrum emitted by astronomical objects, just as optical telescopes are the main observing instrument used in traditional optical astronomy which studies the light wave portion of the spectrum coming from astronomical objects.”

Radio Telescope

We use radio telescopes:

  • To study naturally occurring radio light from stars, galaxies, black holes, and other astronomical objects.
  • We can also use them to transmit and reflect radio light off of planetary bodies in our solar system. These specially-designed telescopes observe the longest wavelengths of light, ranging from 1 millimetre to over 10 meters long.
  • They may be used singly or linked together electronically in an array. Unlike optical telescopes, radio telescopes can be used in the daytime as well as at night.

With Ghana having a radio telescope, it will lead to the deepening of knowledge and skills development in electronics and information and communications technology for Ghanaian students and scientists.

It will also lead to the development of the human capital needed for a sustainable implementation of the country’s space programs, particularly enhancing the nation’s human resource capacity in astronomy research.

It will also enhance the capacity of Ghanaian students and scientists to contribute to the world body of knowledge in the ever-expanding field of astronomy and space science.

Because of the launch of the radio telescope, brilliant Ghanaian Astronomers, Astrophysicists, nuclear physicists, engineers and mathematicians who are theoretically strong but lack practical experiences, would now have an avenue (laboratories) to explore their learned theories.

It also brings back home talented Ghanaians who have travelled outside the country to gain practical knowledge.

In conclusion, the launch and operation of a radio telescope in Ghana will lead to several advancements in Astronomy and other space-related fields in the country. Ghana gets to finally contribute to space science in the world.