MeerKAT Holds Ground Tour Data Science Workshop at Rhodes University

According to the press release by South Africa Radio Observatory (SARAO), 22 students from South African universities assembled at Rhodes University to participate in the MeerKAT Grand Tour Data Science workshop that was held between 15 Sunday – 21 Saturday, 2023.

The workshop, which took place at the Rhodes University’s Continuing Education Centre, was funded by the SARAO Human Capital Development Programme in collaboration with the Breakthrough Listen initiative, the MeerTime collaboration, the TRAPUM collaboration, the Transient Array Radio Telescope consortium and the Centre for Radio Astronomy Techniques and Technologies (RATT), Department of Physics and Electronics at Rhodes University.

The workshop featured networking sessions, question-and-answer sessions, practical sessions concentrating on master’s students, and sessions dedicated to supporting master’s students in their final year intending to pursue cross-disciplinary research in the continuum and time field.

Furthermore, the topics treated enabled students the chance to obtain crucial skills in instrumentation and radio astronomy techniques, such as data analysis and visualisation, calibration and imaging utilising MeerKAT and the Rhodes Transient Array Radio Telescope, pulsar detection and timing on the MeerKAT array and exposure to the digital signal processing techniques employed by modern telescope electronics and the global Breakthrough Listen Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) network.

Some of the topics that were covered include:

  • Electronics and Receivers using the L-band Transient Array Radio Telescope (TART) Recently Constructed at Rhodes University: The students were introduced to front-end instrument electronics and calibration. Both topics are directly relevant to understanding the core concepts of MeerKAT receiver, digitisation and correlation chain design. The TART sessions entailed a hands-on session with TART visibility data viewed and snapshot-image to monitor transitory Global Navigation Satellite constellations.
  • Continuum Imaging: The workshop highlighted various topics on continuum science and educated prospective students on the basics of interferometric calibration and imaging. In addition, the subjects were expanded to include the TART data session with subsets of MeerKAT visibility data. As a result, the students were acquainted with various elementary to advanced issues and required to produce science-analysis-ready MeerKAT images.
  • Pulsar Searching and Timing with MeerKAT: This session discussed pulsar astronomy and provided students with the opportunity to search for pulsars in data of a nearby Globular Cluster as captured by the TRAPUM search backends. Having discovered their pulsar, they were allowed to explore concepts relating to pulsar timing with additional data from the MeerTIME backend. Furthermore, the students learned how to obtain proper system parameters of pulsars in relativistic binaries and were introduced to commonly-used software stacks to search for and analyse pulsar data.
  • The Breakthrough Listen Project and MeerKAT’s Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence: In recent years, MeerKAT has joined the worldwide network of instruments searching the skies for signs of life outside the earth. The scientific reasoning propelling the SETI programme was discussed with digital signal processing techniques, including Doppler searches, utilised to analyse filterbank data taken with the Breakthrough Listen User Supplied Equipment (BLUSE) backend of the MeerKAT telescope.

In addition, the workshop featured lectures, talks and other contributions from:

  • Professor Justin Jonas from Rhodes University, SARAO and SKAO;
  • Distinguished Professor Oleg Smirnov from Rhodes University and SARAO;
  • Dr Fernando Camilo, SARAO Chief Scientist;
  • Dr Stanley Kuja from Rhodes University;
  • Mr Keegan Trehaeven from Rhodes University;
  • Mr David MacMahon from the University of California Berkeley;
  • Dr Daniel Czech from the University of California Berkeley;
  • Ms Ruby van Rooyen from SARAO;
  • Dr Marisa Geyer from SARAO and the University of Cape Town;
  • Dr Landman Bester from SARAO and Rhodes University;
  • Mr Benjamin Hugo from SARAO and Rhodes University;
  • Dr Tim Molteno from the University of Otago; and
  • Dr Vivek Venkatraman Krishnan from the Max-Planck-Institut für Radioastronomie, Bonn.