The first-ever image of a black hole produced in 2019 could only be taken using a global network of telescopes, the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT). However, the addition of a telescope in Africa is necessary to improve future measurements and even create a video of black holes. Therefore, thanks to a guarantee from Radboud University, the start of the Africa Millimetre Telescope (AMT) project has been greenlighted. The project aims to realise a radio telescope in Namibia. In addition, Radboud University guarantees a scientific and technical contribution to the EHT consortium for the next ten years.
Africa Millimetre Telescope
The AMT will be the first radio telescope in Africa that is sensitive to millimetre wavelength radiation. It is part of a large collaborative project between Radboud University and the University of Namibia (UNAM). Furthermore, the project’s primary goal is to expand the telescope network of the Event Horizon Telescope with a radio telescope in Namibia.
The initiator and scientific leader of the project, Heino Falcke, said, “The addition of the AMT to the EHT network will increase the number of connections between the telescopes, thus allowing for better images and videos to be taken of the black hole at the centre of our galaxy. This will enable us to further test our theories on black holes and understand how they generate gigantic amounts of energy”.
The AMT will also work as a stand-alone telescope, the only one of its kind in all of Africa. The telescope can monitor variations in the brightness of small and large black holes – which it will also do in collaboration with optical telescopes and gamma-ray telescopes such as the H.E.S.S. in Namibia and the CTA in Chile.
The telescope, which will have a diameter of 15 metres, will be built according to a tried-out design and will be equipped with last-gen instruments. Similar telescopes have already been realised at the European Southern Observatory (ESO) in Chile and at the Institut de Radioastronomie Millimétrique (IRAM) on the Plateau de Bure in the French Alps. In addition, the AMT will be powered sustainably by using solar power and possibly hydrogen.
Radboud University will guarantee EUR 1 million a year for the management and utilisation of the telescope and participation in the Event Horizon Telescope. The guarantee is granted for the coming ten years. The money will be disbursed in phases, based on the project’s progress and raising external funds and means. In addition, Radboud University guarantees an investment of EUR 1.9 million to realise the telescope itself. The guarantee of Radboud University sets a good foundation for the applications for further grants and investments.
Han van Krieken, Rector Magnificus of Radboud University: “This concerns appealing fundamental research that can only be carried out with large investments and long-term international collaboration. Radboud University researchers can keep contributing to this project over the following years and remain in a leading role.”
The UNAM, together with local companies, is equally responsible for the realisation and the management of the telescope. This opens unique opportunities for astronomy in Namibia to conduct its research and strengthen its position in science.
To prepare the next generation of Namibians for the AMT, the project has its education and outreach programme, and there is an active collaboration with partners from the local industry. For example, the first Namibian PhD candidate in the AMT Fellowship Programme will start in January of 2022. From the summer of 2022 on, they will travel around Namibia, visiting primary schools with a mobile planetarium.
Vice-Chancellor UNAM, Prof. Kenneth Matengu: “In many African communities, space is of symbolic significance. The AMT will function as a lighthouse project for the next generation of Namibian engineers and scientists in general. In particular, it provides UNAM with the unique opportunity to participate in progressive and international projects that can help science reach new heights. I look forward to exciting times.”
The Radboud RadioLab will carry out the technical side of the project. Managing Director Marc Klein Wolt: “With this exceptional support from Radboud University, the realisation of the AMT telescope five years from now is becoming a reality. The AMT is an excellent science in Namibia and with Namibia. We are truly grateful for the great collaboration with the country.”
The AMT project is a paragon of international collaboration: partners like the Rössing Foundation, Walvis Bay Corridor Group, and KLM already signed support statements in 2015. Furthermore, the research programme for the AMT is being prepared by scientists from Radboud University, University of Amsterdam, MIT, ESO, Oxford University, University of Turku, Aalto University, the Joint Institute for VLBI-Eric (JIVE), UNAM, and others. There are also ongoing negotiations with additional parties regarding their participation in the project.
Within the EHT, Radboud University already collaborates with the European stakeholders such as the Max Planck Gesellschaft, Goethe Universität Frankfurt and the Institut de Radioastronomie Millimétrique.
Huib Jan van Langevelde, director of the EHT (JIVE Dwingeloo / Leiden University), is enthusiastic about the Radboud University guarantee. He endorses the importance of the support for the AMT project: “The AMT is an essential expansion from Europe to the global network and an important step towards improving the future of science by way of the Event Horizon Telescope.”