The South African space agency, SANSA, has just taken the wraps off of a new high frequency digital radar antenna at Hermanus in the Western Cape, as part of the closing celebrations for international Space Week. The new antenna has been built entirely within South Africa, and is due to be shipped to Antartica later this year in order to take its place as one of 30 similar detectors which form the Super Dual Aural Radar Network (SuperDARN).
SuperDARN is a global project with sites in 16 countries which has been scanning the skies for activity in the upper atmosphere and ionosphere since 1983. By studying what happens where Earth meets space, scientists can learn about extra-terrestrial weather and what happens when a solar storm occurs, for example, and the Earth gets blasted with charged particles from our friendly neighbourhood star.
Space weather has a huge effect on planet Earth, most of which we probably don’t understand. For example, solar flares have been blamed for interference with electromagnetic radiowaves and telecommunications devices (true), global warming (possible, but misinterpreted by sceptics) and the extinction of the dinosaurs (seriously? You’ll be telling us the universe is made of string next). Understanding the interactions will have a profound effect on satellite communications in the future and space exploration, to name just two obvious examples.
The South African antenna will ping the skies using high frequency wavelengths and listen for the echo that gets returned. According to SANSA, the construction of the antenna, which will be installed at the South African Antarctic Research Base SANAE IV will help raise the country’s profile for future work with international space agencies.