SA joins European astronomy network

14 May 2012

South Africa has become a member of a European institute that makes joint use of radio telescopes spread across the world to produce the clearest available images of some of the most distant and energetic objects in the universe.

The Joint Institute for Very Long Baseline Interferometry in Europe (Jive) last week welcomed South Africa’s National Research Foundation (NRF) as a member.

JIVE’s funding organisations already include the National Astronomical Observatories of China, as well as European national research councils and facilities in France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and the UK.

Jive supports the European VLBI Network (EVN) of radio astronomy facilities, which collaborates with international facilities to conduct Very Long Baseline Interferometry (VLBI), an astronomical technique “that uses widely separated radio telescopes in conjunction with each other to simulate a single telescope hundreds or thousands of kilometres in diameter,” Jive said in a statement last week.

“This technique produces the clearest, highest resolution images of some of the most distant and energetic objects in the universe.”

South Africa’s Hartebeesthoek Radio Astronomy Observatory (HartRAO) has been an active member of the EVN since 2001, and its 26-metre dish has participated in EVN observations for an even longer time.

HartRAO is also working with various African countries to convert obsolete satellite communications dishes across the continent into radio telescopes to create an African VLBI network which, it is planned, will also collaborate with Jive.

South Africa’s radio astronomy – and VLBI – capabilities will be hugely augmented when the Karoo Array Telescope (also known as the MeerKAT), a 64-dish precursor instrument for the Square Kilometre Array, is commissioned in 2014/15.

“The formal addition of the NRF as a full Jive member signals the NRF’s commitment to VLBI and to the future of our collaboration in the EVN in particular,” said Jive director Huib van Langevelde.

“The NRF partnership commits Jive to actively assist in making these facilities successful new additions to the VLBI network.

“Hartebeesthoek’s participation in VLBI observations over the past several years has improved the performance of the EVN tremendously,” Van Langevelde said. “We look forward to observing together with these new South African telescopes to further strengthen the EVN.”

SAinfo reporter