Earth's great minds gather in the Mother City
This week the Cape Town International Convention Centre will host enough collective intelligence to outperform even the largest Mensa groups‚ and then some.
Some of the planet’s brightest minds in astrophysics and cosmology will share and review their most recent research findings while grappling with the secrets of the universe at the international Texas Symposium on Relativistic Astrophysics.
One big question that will be asked is how nature is able to accelerate particles ten billion times faster than we are able to using the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland.
The staging of the 29th edition of the conference being held in Africa for the first time is no coincidence‚ emphasising Southern Africa's role as the host of world-leading astrophysical facilities‚ such as the Southern African Large Telescope (SALT) and the Square Kilometre Array in South Africa‚ and the High Energy Stereoscopic System (HESS) in Namibia.
The symposium also marks the 100th anniversary of the postulation of the cosmological constant‚ also known as “Einstein's Biggest Blunder"‚ and the 285 delegates from 35 countries on all continents are expected to speak on topics including high-energy particles‚ neutron stars and black holes.
Chair of astrophysics and space physics at North-West University in Gauteng‚ Professor Markus Bottcher‚ said the most exciting thing to come out this week would be the discovery of gravitational waves.
“We have been looking for them for over 50 years and they have finally been proven‚” Bottcher said.
“They are ripples in spacetime [resulting] from fast moving compact objects‚ for example two black holes‚ orbiting each other and then finally merging. That distorts gravity and spacetime so that it’s measurable and this has been seen from the merger of two neutron stars‚ and gravitational wave signal has now been directly seen.”
Bottcher‚ who is also chair of the event’s local organising committee‚ was also excited about South Africa’s increasingly prominent role in cosmology and astrophysics on the world stage.
“South Africa plays a big role globally in our understanding of these fields‚” he said.
“It’s one of the leading places to be. That’s the reason I came to South Africa five years ago - because there’s just so much happening here. It’s pretty unparalleled what we have here in one place.
“Cosmology is one of our really big strengths especially here in the Cape region. The SKA and Meerkat have a strong focus in that area. SALT also does a lot of galaxy evolution studies related to cosmology.”
Bottcher believed the event would provide a big boost locally especially in terms of visibility.
“We have leading scientists here from all over the world and this is an opportunity to showcase the good things we do here.”