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South African astronomy initiatives attract attention at the AAS Meeting in D.C.

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Washington, D.C., January 16, 2014: The 223rd Annual Meeting of the American Astronomical Society (AAS) held from January 5-9 in Washington, D.C., attracted over 3,000 professional astronomers, educators, journalists, and guests from around the world. 

Dozens of sessions focusing on diverse topics in astronomy took place throughout the week. The session titled, "Astronomy Across Africa: A New Dawn", held on January 9, included a presentation given by Mr Takalani Nemaungani, Director of Global Projects at the South African Department of Science and Technology. His presentation, “Vision for Astronomy in South Africa and partnership with the US”, aimed to showcase existing collaborations in astronomy and to forge new partnerships. 
The South African astronomers who took part in the session programme included Dr Ted Williams (Director, South African Astronomical Observatory), Dr Sarah Blyth (University of Cape Town), Dr Ilani Loubser (North-West University) and Jean-Christophe Mauduit (IAU Office for Astronomy Development). Also in attendance were European astronomers including Dr Phil Diamond, Director of the Square Kilometre Array’s (SKA), and Prof Tim de Zeeuw, the Director-General of ESO. 
The South African delegation discussed the emergence of Africa as a hub for astronomy and gave examples of telescopes such as the SKA, African VLBI, SALT, HESS, etc. While giving his closing remarks at the session, Mr Nemaungani invited the US astronomers to partner with Africa in its efforts of building human capital and technological expertise needed to expand the astronomy base.
A current example of South Africa-US partnership in astronomy is the SKA Project Office and the National Radio Astronomy Observatory’s (in the US) agreement to collaborate on the advanced cutting-edge radio astronomy projects in both countries. The decision to renew this agreement for an additional five years was recently signed in Cape Town on 5 August 2013. 
This agreement paves the way for the organisations to pool resources and expertise in projects related to the development and implementation of software, data processing and archiving, and state-of-the-art receiving systems. 
“Radio astronomy in both countries will benefit from sharing expertise resulting from recent expansions and upgrades to radio astronomy facilities in the USA, and the construction of the KAT-7 and the MeerKAT in South Africa," Dr Bernie Fanaroff, Director of SKA South Africa commented. "Scientists in the US are keen to collaborate with South Africa in the construction of the MeerKAT telescope as a precursor to the SKA, because they recognise that the MeerKAT will be a world leading and very exciting telescope in its own right." 
At the meeting, Mr Nemaungani expressed the need for more partnerships with America in the same way Africa and Europe has through initiatives such as the AfricanR08;European Radio Astronomy Platform (AERAP) and the important role it plays in advancing collaborative projects in radio astronomy. 
AERAP is a stakeholder forum of representatives from industry, academia and the public sector. Established in May 2012, it aims to define and implement priorities for radio astronomy cooperation between Europe and Africa. The overall goals of the platform are to leverage radio astronomy, advance scientific discovery, improve knowledge transfer and stimulate competitiveness across both continents.
The AAS is the biggest meeting of US astronomers gathering under one roof to promote the advancement of astronomy and closely related branches of science as well as enhancing astronomy education and providing a political voice for its members through lobbying activities. 
The US has a strong astronomy base with the highest number of astronomers in a single country and constitutes about one third of the total number of astronomers in the world.
The meeting included sessions focusing on topics as diverse as education, the demographics of the profession, how to handle “big data,” present and future sky surveys, next-generation space-astronomy missions, and key problems in understanding planetary systems, stars, galaxies, and the structure and evolution of the universe itself.
It also featured numerous public-policy Town Hall sessions. Representatives from NASA, the National Science Foundation, and the National Research Council led discussions about federal funding for the astronomical sciences and the effects of the ongoing battles between and within the White House and Congress. 
The next triennial IAU general assembly, which the U.S. is hosting and the AAS is organizing, will be held in Honolulu, USA in August 2015.
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Editor’s Note
The African-European Radio Astronomy Platform (AERAP)
AERAP is a response to the calls of the European Parliament, 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”, for radio astronomy to be a priority focus area for Africa—EU cooperation. AERAP is a new stakeholder forum of industry, academia and the public sector established to define and implement priorities for radio astronomy cooperation between Africa and Europe. The overall goals of the platform are to leverage radio astronomy, advance scientific discovery, improve knowledge transfer and stimulate competitiveness across both continents. The platform will also enable effective dialogue to build a shared vision for international cooperation in radio astronomy.
Further information on AERAP: www.aerap.org

The Square Kilometre Array (SKA)
SKA is a global science and engineering project led by the SKA Organisation, a not-for-profit company with its headquarters at Jodrell Bank Observatory, near Manchester, UK. The SKA will address fundamental unanswered questions about our Universe including how the first stars and galaxies formed after the Big Bang, how galaxies have evolved since then, the role of magnetism in the cosmos, the nature of gravity, and the search for life beyond Earth. 
Thousands of linked radio wave receptors will be located in Australia and in Southern Africa. Combining the signals from the antennas in each region will create a telescope with a collecting area equivalent to a dish with an area of about one square kilometre.
Members of the SKA Organisation are Australia, Canada, China, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Republic of South Africa, Sweden and United Kingdom. India is an associate member.
For further information: please contact William Garnier, Chief Communications Officer of the SKA Organisation (w.garnier@skatelescope.org)
or visit the website of the SKA Organisation: www.skatelescope.org