The National Research Foundation’s three astronomical facilities have partnered to form the South African Astroinformatics Alliance (SA3, pronounced “SA cubed”), which will serve as a virtual observatory for the country.
The directors of the South African Astronomical Observatory, Hartebeesthoek Radio Astronomy Observatory and the Square Kilometre Array South Africa project signed a declaration forming SA3.
The purpose of this alliance is largely to effectively manage the surge of data that will soon be available in SA. Huge amounts of data are expected to be produced by new and upcoming observational facilities, including the Southern African Large Telescope, the Karoo Array Telescope (MeerKAT) and the SKA.
A statement released by SA3 says the alliance will facilitate access to multi-wavelength astronomical data, ensure the data is accessible to the international community in a manner that does not violate ownership rights and develop human capital through schools and workshops.
“SA can be best positioned to exploit this wealth of data if we develop our storage, access, visualisation and analysis tools in a coherent manner that takes cognisance of the rapidly changing scale and complexity of the requirements and the environment,” says the statement.
SA3 is also a member of the International Virtual Observatory Alliance, which involves similar organisations in Argentina, Australia, Brazil, China, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, the UK and the US, to name a few. This membership allows the alliance to help link South African astronomers to similar organisations internationally so that they are able to take full advantage of software and hardware developments made elsewhere.
SA3 has acknowledged the critical role it is able to play in education and has already started programmes to train students within the National Astronomy and Space Science Programme. The alliance has also committed to help other institutes and universities within SA and Africa to develop similar student projects with help from the International Astronomical Union Office of Astronomy for Development.