14 July 2008
President Thabo Mbeki has signed the Astronomy Geographic Advantage Bill into law, giving the Science and Technology Minister the power to declare astronomy advantage areas, in order to ensure that large-scale and globally important astronomy facilities are protected from developments that might interfere with their research activities.
“The benefits of the legislation include the protection of large-scale investments already made in astronomy; the preservation of an environment for a global astronomy hub that will continue to attract international investment,” the Department of Science and Technology said in a statement last month.
The Bill gives South Africa with a competitive advantage in its bid to become the preferred host of the full Square Kilometre Array (SKA) in the Northern Cape province, which is already home to the Southern African Large Telescope (Salt), the largest single optical telescope in the Southern Hemisphere.
Developing skills, identifying protected areas
It also provides for the developing of skills, capabilities and expertise of those involved in astronomy and related scientific work in Southern Africa; the identifying and protecting of areas in which astronomy projects of national strategic importance can be undertaken; and for the declaration and management of astronomy advantage areas.
In addition, the bill defines a framework for the establishment of a national system of astronomy advantage areas to ensure that geographic areas highly suitable for astronomy and related scientific work – owing, for example, to their high atmospheric transparency, low levels of light pollution, low population density or minimal radio frequency interference – are protected, preserved and properly maintained.
Lastly, it enhances South Africa’s geographic advantages by restricting activities that cause or could cause light pollution or radio frequency interference, or might interfere in any other way with astronomy and related scientific work on designated areas.
“This marks a tremendous boost for our international bid to host the SKA, which is likely to be the largest and most sensitive radio telescope in the next two decades, consisting of thousands of dishes between 10 and 15 metres in diameter,” said South Africa’s SKA project manager, Dr Bernie Fanaroff.
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