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South Africa celebrates astrophysicist in first black hole image team

Growing up in South Africa’s Free State where he had a good view of the Milky Way, inspired his dreams to become an astronaut

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(SA Astrophysicist Prof Roger Deane): Professor Roger Deane is an Astrophysicist from the Department of Physics at the University of Pretoria. He is pictured here with a theorised simulation of a black hole shadow image. (Background photo credit: T. Bronzwaer, J. Davelaar, M. Moscibrodzka, H. Falcke/BlackHoleCam

South Africa is celebrating its astrophysicist, Professor Roger Deane, who was part of the international team of scientists that captured the first photograph of a black hole. The image was unveiled simultaneously in six press conferences across the globe on Wednesday.

The ground-breaking image was created by a large scale international research collaboration, the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT). The EHT is comprised of a network of 10 radio telescopes scattered across the globe, functioning as a single receiver. As well as the more than 200 scientists from Africa, Asia, Europe, and North and South America who collect and analyse huge amounts of data from it.

This includes Prof. Deane from the Department of Physics at the University of Pretoria, as well as his post-doctoral fellow, Dr. Iniyan Natarajan, from the Department of Physics and Electronics at Rhodes University. Their contribution was to build a highly realistic simulation of this “earth-sized” instrument that helped astronomers better understand what the real black hole ought to look like.

“As with any major physics experiment, one needs to understand the effects that the instrument itself may have on the data.

“In the case of the EHT, we built a simulation package that physically modelled a number of non-desirable effects that prevent one from seeing any sort of black hole shadow feature,” Deane said.

M-87 Black hole

The capture of this image marks a major scientific achievement as it provides actual confirmation of Albert Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity.

Black holes are extremely compressed cosmic objects, containing enormous amounts of mass within a tiny space. Their presence affects their surroundings in extreme ways, by warping spacetime and super-heating any material falling into it. Nothing emerges from a black hole; not even light.

(First Photo of Black Hole Graphic): The first photograph of a black hole located in the M87 galaxy in the Virgo constellation, 50 billion lights years from Earth. SOPHIE RAMIS, SABRINA BLANCHARD, JONATHAN WALTER / AFP

The captured image reveals the black hole at the centre of Messier 87, a massive galaxy in the constellation of Virgo. This black hole is located 55 million light-years from Earth and has a mass 6.5-billion times larger than our sun.

Deane’s research group will now focus on expanding their simulations.

Africans in space research

“I’m just proud and honoured to play my small part in this amazing international team”, said Deane, who attended the unveiling in Brussels.

He revealed that growing up in South Africa’s Free State where he had a good view of the Milky Way, inspired his dreams to become an astronaut.

Vice-chancellor of the University of Pretoria, Professor Tawana Kupe, said of Deane, in a statement on the milestone achievement.

“This young scientist is an inspiration to scientists on the African continent. This discovery is a great example of what can be achieved if we work together across borders and disciplines.”

Deane and his research group are part of a wider cohort of scientists on the continent realising significant milestones in the areas of astronomy and computational intelligence. Their work is made possible with the critical support of various African government.

Last year South Africa launched MeerKAT, a 64-dish radio telescope system 50 times more powerful than any other on earth. MeerKAT was built as part of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA), a multi-billion dollar international project to create the world’s largest radio telescope.

South African deputy President David Mabuza (2nd R) officially inaugurates one of a 64-dish radio telescope system during an official unveiling ceremony on July 13, 2018 in Carnarvon. – South Africa on July 13 unveiled the planet’s super radio telescope which will be at least 50 times more powerful than any telescope on earth. Deputy President on July 13, formally unveiled the 64-dish radio telescope array in the remote and arid Karoo region of South Africa that offers prime conditions for astronomers. Named the MeerKAT, the 64 receptors are set to be integrated into a multi-nation Square Kilometre Array (SKA). (Photo by MUJAHID SAFODIEN / AFP)

Co-located primarily in South Africa and Australia, the SKA will be a collection of hundreds of thousands of radio antennas with a combined collecting area equivalent to approximately one million square metres, or one square kilometre.

The project is one of the largest scientific endeavours in history and will be more than 10 times more sensitive and much faster at surveying galaxies than any current radio telescope.

The next African phase of the SKA, the African Millimetre Telescope (AMT), to be located in Namibia is now in the pipeline.

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Two UN personnel killed in Benghazi by car bomb

Two members of the UN mission were killed and at least eight others wounded including a child, by a car bomb.

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Two UN personnel killed in Benghazi by car bomb
Libyan firefighters extinguish a fire at the site of a car bomb attack in Libya's eastern city of Benghazi on August 10, 2019. - "Two members of the UN mission, one them a foreigner, were killed and at least eight others wounded including a child, by a car bomb" in a shopping area of the Al-Hawari district, the official said. (Photo by - / AFP)

A car bombing in Libya’s eastern city of Benghazi killed two United Nations staff on Saturday, a security official said.

“Two members of the UN mission were killed and at least eight others wounded including a child, by a car bomb” in a shopping area of the Al-Hawari district, the official said.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the blast, which happened as a UN convoy was passing through the area.

Benghazi, Libya’s second city and the cradle of the 2011 uprising that overthrew dictator Muammar Gaddafi, was hit by years of violence targeting diplomatic offices and security forces after his fall.

An attack on the US consulate on September 11, 2012, killed US ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.

In 2017, military strongman Khalifa Haftar drove hardline Islamists and jihadists out of Benghazi after a three-year battle.

Haftar, who backs an eastern-based administration that opposes the Tripoli-based unity government, went on to seize Derna, the last city in eastern Libya outside his control.

But bombings and kidnappings have continued.

A May 2018 attack left seven people dead and last month, a car bombing at the funeral of an ex-army commander killed at least four people and wounded more than 30 others.

A Libyan lawmaker is also feared to have been abducted by an armed group in the eastern city, the UN and lawmakers said in July.

Haftar controls most of eastern Libya, and early this year he ordered his self-styled Libyan National Army to purge the south of what he called “terrorist groups and criminals”. 

On the heels of that campaign, his LNA launched in April an offensive to take the Libyan capital from the UN-recognised Government of National Accord. 

The LNA on Saturday announced a truce around Tripoli for the three-day Muslim festival of Eid Al-Adha, after the unity government conditionally accepted a ceasefire called for by the UN.

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76 people survive shipwreck in DR Congo

The motorised boat was carrying around 100 passengers when it capsized on the lake, near the eastern city of Bukavu.

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DR Congo boat accident claims 11 lives, dozens missing

76 people have survived a shipwreck on Lake Kivu in the Democratic Republic of Congo, a regional official said Saturday. However, more than a dozen people are feared to have drowned in the same incident.

The motorised boat was carrying around 100 passengers when it capsized on the lake, near the eastern city of Bukavu. 

“We have already registered 76 survivors,” said Swedi Basila, the regional transport minister for South Kivu province, adding that up to 20 people were still missing.

“No body has been found until now,” he told AFP.

The vessel had been on its way to the island of Idjwi when it hit a large rock and capsized, Basila said.

River transport is one of the most used in DR Congo with its numerous waterways. Boat mishaps are common, typically caused by overloading of passengers and cargo.

Tolls are often high because there are no life jackets and many Congolese do not know how to swim.

In April, at least 167 people were killed in two accidents, prompting President Felix Tshisekedi to make it mandatory for boat passengers to have life jackets. 

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EFCC charge Atiku Abubakar’s lawyer with corruption

Legal advisor Uyi Giwa Osagie is accused of handling $2 million without going through a “financial institution”

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Former Nigerian Vice President, Atiku Abubakar

Nigerian anti-corruption investigators have charged the lawyer of defeated presidential challenger Atiku Abubakar with money laundering, an official said Friday.

Legal advisor Uyi Giwa Osagie is accused of handling $2 million without going through a “financial institution”, a lawyer for the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) told AFP.

Election runner-up Abubakar has launched a legal challenge against the result of the fiercely contested poll in February that saw him lose out to incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari. 

Several people close to the defeated candidate have been targeted by the anti-graft agency since the vote, in what Abubakar’s supporters have described as a witch hunt. 

Osagie was first detained in February after his house was raided in Lagos but released from custody several weeks later. 

Boladale Adekoya, a spokesman for Abubakar’s campaign accused anti-corruption investigators of being “more dedicated to partisanship than rule of law”.

“They are clearly acting on behalf of a higher authority,” he told AFP. 

Abubakar’s son-in-law was also detained in the wake of the election as part of a money-laundering probe but has yet to face charges.

Buhari swept to power in 2015 on a pledge to fight the rampant graft in Nigeria — but critics accused the former military ruler of using the crackdown to go after his opponents during his first term. 

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