Test station in the desert
By Rob Millenaar.
A week ago now, I travelled to South Africa. In the months ahead my job will take me to some interesting places around the world, and the first stop is in SA. I'm here to do radio measurements in the field. The 'field' in this case is the middle of the Karoo desert, a dry and empty place, very suitable for building a new kind of radio telescope: the Square Kilometre Array or SKA. There are more of such empty places on the globe and it is our job to find out which one is the radio-quietest.
In the past week we travelled from Johannesburg to the guest institute at Hartebeesthoek (Hartebeesthoek Radio Astronomy Organization, HartRAO). From there we went for a 1000 km drive to the Karoo, taking our equipment with us in a trailer. At the site the antennas and receivers were set up and measurements started.
The colleagues have been telling us that the Karoo is bone dry and getting dryer now that the rainy season is over, as Autumn on the Southern hemisphere sets in. The second day in the desert we were surprised by torrential rain however, flooding large areas of the desert plane, and filling gulches and trail tracks. All-terrain vehicles are an absolute must in these conditions, and even these can get stuck in the mud, as we foud out. This first week brought us rain, sun, and strong winds. The desert looks beautiful and the weeks ahead promise to have much in store for us.