2 August 2013, Cape Town – The National Research Foundation’s (NRF) three astronomical facilities have formed the South African Astroinformatics Alliance (SA3 pronounced “SA cubed”), which serves as a virtual observatory for the country. The directors of the South African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO), Hartebeesthoek Radio Astronomy Observatory (HartRAO) and the Square Kilometer Array South Africa (SKASA) project signed a declaration forming SA3. The three primary purposes of SA3 are:
to facilitate access by the South African astronomical community to multi-wavelength astronomical data as well as to tools for dealing with them;
to ensure that data produced by facilities in South Africa are accessible to the international community (in a manner that does not violate any ownership rights);
to develop human capital through schools and workshops that introduce people to data and tools of the virtual observatory
South African astronomy is entering an extraordinary era characterised by huge amounts of data from new and upcoming observational facilities including the Southern African Large Telescope (SALT), the Karoo Array Telescope (MeerKAT) and the SKA. Similar large data sets from international facilities, operating on the ground and in space, across the electromagnetic spectrum from radio to gamma rays, add to the opportunities and to the challenges. Linking these datasets to theoretical models and simulations adds yet another dimension.
South African can be best positioned to exploit this wealth of data if we develop our storage, access, visualization and analysis tools in a coherent manner that takes cognizance of the rapidly changing scale and complexity of the requirements and the environment. Links between the observational data, theoretical models and simulations will also play key roles in our growing understanding of the universe and must form an integral part of our vision.
SA3 is established with the intent that any new major astronomical facility, observational or theoretical, will become involved at an appropriate stage. The alliance will help link South African astronomers to similar organizations internationally so that we may take full advantage of software and hardware developments made elsewhere. To this end, the International Virtual Observatory Alliance (IVOA) has already welcomed SA3 to its membership, which involves similar organizations in Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Brazil, China, Canada, France, Germany, Hungary, Japan, Russia, Spain, UK, USA, India, Italy and Ukraine.
SA3 is a powerful medium for training as it brings vast astronomical resources, along with highly sophisticated but very easy to use techniques. It allows students and teachers to conduct informative experiments/exercises with relatively simple and inexpensive tools. SA3 has already started programmes to train students within the National Astronomy and Space Science Programme (NASSP) and has developed new student projects (with the help from other VO projects across the globe). These projects demonstrate the latest, interesting results in astronomy and at the same time expose the students to modern developments taking place in the astronomy and IT domains. They deal with topics ranging from our solar system to the most distant galaxies and are designed so that they can be adapted for students with different levels of scientific training. The alliance will help other institutes and universities within South Africa and Africa to develop similar student projects with help from the International Astronomical Union (IAU) Office of Astronomy for Development (OAD). This prestigious IAU Office is the global hub for capacity building using astronomy, and SA3 will participate in this endeavour to develop mathematical and scientific skills, particularly within Africa.
(It has been decided that the SAAO will act as secretariat and direct all queries to the relevant people)
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