South Africa's SKA project created a buzz in classrooms throughout the country by way of two high-profile competitions to raise awareness among learners - one aimed at learners in grades 4 - 7 and another at learners in grades 8 -11.
|Mission MeerKAT for kids
Download the Collector's Edition of the cartoon series which includes episodes 1, 2 and 3. The series explains how radio astronomy works and why the pathfinder telescope will be built in the Karoo.
Learners had to answer five simple questions about the MeerKat and Square Kilometre Array (SKA) radio telescopes. Prizes like laptops, printers, digital cameras and organised tours to their nearest astronomy observatory were up for grabs.
SAASTA distributed 200 000 entry forms to primary schools, high schools, science centres and the Department of Education's provincial and selected district offices around the country. The aim of this competition, which was initiated by the Department of Science and Technology (DST) and is being coordinated by SAASTA, is to increase awareness about Africa's bid to host the SKA and to ensure that South Africans are aware of the bid, especially at school level.
Considerable hype was created in the media for this campaign, including interviews on community radio stations such as Lesedi FM, Ikhwekhwezi FM, Ukhozi FM and Phalafala FM. The buzz among learners and teachers was evident from the high numbers of requests that were received for more application forms. Schools were excited to be part of such a major initiative by the DST.
"Coordinating the SKA competition has made me realise that there is still a lot of work to be done in our country to make South Africans aware of the benefits that the SKA could bring to us," says Anacletta Koloko, Project Coordinator at SAASTA's Science Communication Unit.
The competition closed on 31 March 2012 and winners will be announced at the end of April 2012.
The SKA will be a mega radio telescope, consisting of about 3 000 dish-shaped antennae spread over an area of over 3 000 km. If Africa wins the bid, the core of the telescope will be constructed in Carnarvon in the Karoo region of the Northern Cape, with outlying telescope stations in other parts of South Africa as well as Botswana, Ghana, Kenya, Madagascar, Mozambique, Mauritius, Namibia and Zambia.
Africa and Australia-New Zealand are the only two bidders in the running to host this international mega telescope, which will be used to collect radio waves from space.
MeerKat is South Africa's own world-class radio telescope that is being built near the proposed site for the SKA. It will consist of 64 dishes, of which seven have been completed and are operational.
For more information, visit www.ska.ac.za