Big cash boost for Karoo astronomy

2016-09-14 15:39
The Hera project in the Karoo will expand. (SKA)

The Hera project in the Karoo will expand. (SKA)

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

Cape Town - Radio astronomy in Karoo is set for a boost with a substantial capital injection.

The Hydrogen Epoch of Reionisation Array (Hera) will be granted a cash injection of $9.5m to boost its 19 radio dishes to 220 by 2018.

Hera is located in the same Radio Astronomy Advantage Area in the Northern Cape Karoo as the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) which will examine the early formation of the universe.

Unlike its sophisticated cousin, Hera will allow astronomers to detect the key signatures of early stars and galaxies in the universe.

“Hera is a truly Karoo-based instrument. Construction materials are sourced and fabricated from within South Africa - predominantly from the Carnarvon area,” said Project Engineer Kathryn Rosie.

Business benefit

Local small businesses are benefiting from the construction of the instrument.

“Because the bulk materials of construction are light industry materials such as wood and PVC pipe, there is opportunity for local businesses, which don't necessarily have a ‘high technology’ customer base, to be a part of this awesome science instrument,” Rosie added.

Hera will give astronomers a glimpse into when stars and galaxies formed in the early universe.

Hera under construction. (Danny Jacobs)

"The universe was formed in a Hot Big Bang of particles and radiation 14 billion years ago, but soon cooled down and was dark for hundreds of millions of years, before any stars formed. Nobody yet knows when these stars formed,” said SKA South Africa Chief Scientist, Dr Fernando Camilo.

“Today's announcement increases the chances that signs of the first stars and galaxies ever to be created will soon be detected - in South Africa's Northern Cape."

Unlike the SKA, the Hera has no moving parts, lowering the cost of the instrument.

The science project has also given opportunity to young SKA interns to gain valuable experience working on the telescopes.

‘Dawn of time’

“Two SKA South Africa interns who were part of the fibre-training programme in 2015, are included in the team of four. They have rapidly developed into very capable Hera builders who can hold their own with everything from land survey equipment, to general construction and the maintenance of the front-end signal chain of a radio telescope,” said Rosie.

Constructing Hera in the dedicated area validates the decision to situate the precursor MeerKAT and SKA in the Northern Cape.

The University of California, Berkeley, leads the Hera project in collaboration with South African institutions including Rhodes University, the University of KwaZulu-Natal, the University of the Western Cape, the University of Witwatersrand and SKA South Africa.

“Among other investigations, MeerKAT will study evolved galaxies in the later universe, while Hera will peer back nearer to the dawn of time, when the first stars and galaxies were being formed. In this way they address complementary scientific questions," said Dr Rob Adam, SKA South Africa Managing Director.

WATCH this video on how a radio telescope works:

- Follow Duncan on Twitter

Read more on:    ska  |  science  |  good news  |  astronomy

Join the conversation! encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.

Inside News24

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.