ACRU member helps launch Antarctic balloon-borne telescope

ACRU member Dr. Cynthia Chiang, returned in January from a two month visit to Antarctica where she participated in an experiment called SPIDER that studied the earliest moments of our universe’s creation.

SPIDER consisted of six telescopes that were launched into the stratosphere with a giant helium-filled balloon, which swelled to roughly the size of Durban’s Kings Park stadium at its 35-km cruising altitude.  From this lofty height, SPIDER observed the faint, leftover heat from the Big Bang: this afterglow, known as the cosmic microwave background (CMB), contains valuable clues that will help unravel the mysteries of our universe’s explosive beginnings.  The experiment was built by an international collaboration that includes Princeton University, the University of Toronto, Case Western Reserve University, the California Institute of Technology and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and the University of British Columbia.

Dr. Cynthia Chiang and SPIDER in Antarctica
Dr. Cynthia Chiang and SPIDER in Antarctica
The SPIDER cryostat in 2010 and some of the early team members (L to R): Miss Sasha Rahlin, Dr. Cynthia Chiang, Dr. Jon Gudmundsson and Professor William Jones
The SPIDER cryostat in 2010 and some of the early team members (L to R): Miss Sasha Rahlin, Dr. Cynthia Chiang, Dr. Jon Gudmundsson and Professor William Jones

 Dr. Chiang joined the SPIDER collaboration in 2009 as a postdoctoral research fellow at Princeton University. She was responsible for testing and operating SPIDER’s cryostat, a large vessel that houses the six telescopes and cools them to -270 degrees Celsius using 1000 litres of liquid helium. SPIDER was launched on January 1, 2015 and spent 17 days in flight.

 “I was absolutely thrilled to finally see SPIDER in the air.  It’s taken many long years of hard work and dedication from people across the globe, and collaborating with such a talented and cohesive team has truly been a blessing for me.  We’re all eager to see the data in full when the telescopes have been retrieved, and we look forward to facing the new challenges of sifting through our observations.  We at ACRU will be actively involved in the analysis, and we plan to continue collaborating on SPIDER for its second flight” said Dr. Chiang.

Registration open for Cosmology on Safari (26-30 January 2015)

Registration is now open for ‘Cosmology on Safari’ (26-30 January 2015), a small conference which aims to bring together theorists and observers to discuss the challenges that remain in cosmology. The topics to be covered by the conference are:

  • The early universe: constraints on primordial perturbations, dark radiation, gravitational waves and inflationary models from the cosmic microwave background.
  • The late-time universe: constraints on dark energy, dark matter, theories of gravity and the nature of the primordial perturbations from galaxy redshift surveys, cosmic shear, galaxy clusters, baryon acoustic oscillations, type Ia supernovae and laboratory alternatives.

See the conference website for full details, and to submit an abstract.

Public Talks in October and November

Public Talks in October and November

In the next two months, we will be holding two fascinating Public Talks:

Deep Cinematography of the Whole Sky with the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST)

On the 8th of October 2014, Dr Abhijit Saha from the National Optical Astronomy Observatory in Arizona will deliver a Public Talk on the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST). The Large Synoptic Survey Telescope is projected to come online in 2019 and begin a survey of the whole sky visible from Cerro Pachon in Chile. Read More

SKA, MeerKAT and more – radio astronomy in Africa

On the 5th of November 2014, Justin Jonas will speak on radio astronomy in Africa. Justin Jonas is the Associate Director: Science & Engineering, South African SKA Project Office, National Research Foundation (a joint appointment with Rhodes University). This talk will provide an overview of the strategies and initiatives that have led to Africa becoming a major “destination” for radio astronomy, and an update on the progress towards the completion of the MeerKAT and the design of the SKA Telescope. Read More

Registration open for SKA Introductory Radio Astronomy School 2014

ACRU will be hosting an introductory radio astronomy school, on behalf of Square Kilometre Array South Africa, from 9-14 December 2014. The school is primarily aimed at final year undergraduates, Hons, and MSc students.

Several leading radio astronomers, both from abroad and within SA, will be teaching at the school, covering topics such as the radio sky, interferometry, and synthesis imaging. There will be several hands-on sessions where students will have the opportunity to develop their skills in the analysis of radio data and apply what they have learned in the lectures.

Registration is now open.

New BSc Astronomy Major in 2015

New world-class astronomy facilities such as the Square Kilometre Array and the Southern African Large Telescope require a new generation of South African astronomers to help uncover the secrets of the Universe. In light of this, the School of Mathematics, Statistics & Computer Science and the School of Chemistry & Physics at UKZN will be offering a new Major in Astronomy from 2015. This Major will be taught by academic staff at UKZN’s Astrophysics and Cosmology Unit (ACRU).

The Astronomy major is part of a BSc degree in the Mathematical Sciences stream and includes five new specialised modules. Upon completion, students may engage in postgraduate research or enter a career in Astrophysics and Cosmology. Apart from learning about cutting-edge topics in astronomy, students will also acquire skills in statistics, data analysis, scientific computing, problem solving, and communication which are in high demand in a wide range of careers.

For further information regarding the Astronomy Major and available bursaries, contact Mr Strini Rajopaul  (tel: 031 260 7138).