(Northern Cape) – The international Hydrogen Epoch of Reionisation Array (Hera) telescope, being constructed in South Africa’s radio astronomy reserve in the Northern Cape province, has received a significant new cash injection, that will fund a major expansion of the array, SKA South Africa (SKA SA) announced recently. SKA SA is one of the partners in the Hera programme.
The new grant is worth $5.8-million and comes from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation. It follows a $9.5-million grant from the US National Science Foundation (NSF) in September last year. While the NSF grant ensures that Hera will have 240 antennas by 2018, this new grant will, in due course, increase that figure to 350. Construction of the array started in 2015 and so far 35 of the 14-m-diameter dishes have been erected.
Hera is intended to gather data from shortly after the birth of the universe when the first stars, galaxies and black holes developed. The first generation of stars were hot and massive, and they and the first black holes flooded space with X-rays.
“Observations at the lowest radio frequencies (< 100 MHz), allow for observations of the epoch that precedes cosmic reinonisation where X-rays are expected to have heated the intergalactic medium,” explained SKA SA Hera senior astronomer Dr Gianni Bernardi. “As X-rays are expected to be generated by accretion on black holes, observations of this epoch will directly probe the properties of the first black holes formed in the universe.”
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