University of KwaZulu-Natal to build a R70m radio telescope

The University of KwaZulu-Natal is embarking on a cutting edge legacy project to build a R70m radio telescope, Professor Kavilan Moodley said on Sunday.

Moodley, who works at the university’s astrophysics and cosmology research department, spoke to News24 on Sunday during a two-day annual astronomy meeting in Umhlanga, Durban.

“The university is building a telescope called the Hirax which is hydrogen intensity mapping and real time analysis experiment.

“We conceptualised the project over a year ago and submitted our proposal to the National Research Foundation to fund it. It is being supported through a new programme in the NRF called Institutional Engagement Programme Directorate.

“The NRF is going around the country asking universities what is the one thing that they want to be known for,” said Moodley.

He said this would be UKZN’s legacy project.

“It’s actually [planned to be] 1 000 dishes… of 6m diameter each. We will start developing them in Durban then we are going to build a prototype of about eight dishes to test the system out and then beyond that we plan to put 128 of these dishes in the Karoo near the MeerKAT project,” he said.

He said if the project is successful the project will be expanded to the 1 000 dishes.

UKZN was supporting this project because it would be at the cutting edge of astronomy, Moodley said.

“The Hirax will assist us to be able to look back in time and what that means is that we will be looking out into the universe. We will be looking to a few billion years after the beginning of time.

“There is a lot of interesting science we can do with the Hirax. The city has indicated to us that we are going to develop a site here and we are also going to be working on the project with the Durban University of Technology.

“We have one dish at the harbour that has arrived for the telescope, the dish was constructed by our international partners so we are now going to start working on it.

“We will collaborate with the city on the project because they have indicated that they have strong support for the project. We haven’t decided where the dishes will be.

He said that with a budget of around R70m, the project was actually quite cheap as big telescope projects like the MeerKAT costs billions of rands.

“UKZN is contributing a significant amount, we have funded the first phase which is building 128 dishes and we are planning to get input from the NRF and our international partners on how else we can get funding,” said Moodley.


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University of KwaZulu-Natal to build a R70m radio telescope