University of Cambridge > Talks.cam > Departmental Seminars in History and Philosophy of Science > Before the big bang of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA): 250 years of astronomy in South Africa

Before the big bang of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA): 250 years of astronomy in South Africa

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South Africa is in the process of building the world’s largest radio telescope as part of a major international consortium. When the Square Kilometre Array begins to operate (around 2021) it is envisaged that the telescope, comprising hundreds of linked dishes, will offer exceptional image resolution quality and allow astronomers to catalogue radio sources with unprecedented speed and range. The promoters of the SKA stress the benefits that will accrue to the ‘rainbow nation’. In doing so, they rely heavily on South Africa’s remarkable history of astronomical activity – a story that goes back to Nicolas-Louis de La Caille’s pioneering work in the mid-eighteenth century, as well as the role of the Royal Astronomers at the Cape and the scientific contributions of John Herschel. My own survey of this history seeks to contextualise astronomy more broadly in South African history as part of a contribution to discussions about the developmentalist objectives and political implications of the SKA project and the role of ‘big science’ in Africa.

This talk is part of the Departmental Seminars in History and Philosophy of Science series.

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