Ghana and South Africa celebrate first success of African network of telescopes

Ghana and South Africa have announced the first successful detection of fringes during a VLBI (Very Long Baseline Interferometry) test experiment with the European VLBI Network (EVN). A 32 metre converted telecommunications antenna at Kutunse, Ghana, was used in the ‘first fringe' detection. The experiment is one of three positive detections, with the other two successes including methanol maser detection and pulsar observations. This is an exciting milestone in the development of the African VLBI Network (AVN), and indicates that the Kutunse antenna can be used as a radio telescope for single dish observations and as part of a VLBI network. The fringes were found by combining data from Kutunse and other participating EVN stations using the SFXC software correlator, designed by the Joint Institute for VLBI ERIC (JIVE). Confirmation of the success came with a joint announcement from the ministers of Ghana and South Africa.

"The Ghanaian government warmly embraces the prospect of radio astronomy in the country and our radio astronomy development plan forms part of the broader Ghana Science, Technology and Innovation Development Plan," says Professor Kwabena Frimpong-Boateng, the Ghana Minister of Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation (MESTI).

The South African Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO) has been funding a large part of the conversion project through the African Renaissance and International Cooperation Fund (ARF). The South African Minister of DIRCO, Ms Maite Nkoana-Mashabane says, "The African Renaissance Fund is aimed at strengthening cooperation between South Africa and other African countries and to support the development of skills and build institutional capacity on the continent."

European partners have provided support to the team in Ghana, doing test correlations and scheduling, coordinating and confirming the observations involved in the successful experiment. In addition, JIVE correlated the full experiment for analysis. Support for developments such as this is delivered through the EC Horizon2020 JUMPING JIVE project, which provides training opportunities in the development and use of VLBI in radio astronomy.

Following this initial success, the research teams from Ghana and South Africa, together with JIVE, will be analysing the data generated over the full course of the experiment, and planning for further test observations with the EVN. Continued improvements are anticipated to improve the accuracy of future experiments, for example the team in Ghana will be replacing the rubidium clock currently being used for a more stable maser. This will ensure the Ghana station will contribute to science observations with the EVN and other VLBI arrays.

Dr. Jay Blanchard, Support Scientist for the JUMPING JIVE project, has been working with the team in Ghana. He reflected on the recent success: "This is a great achievement from Ghana, they have worked extremely hard to get to this stage including building up local expertise and infrastructure, and so it is very nice (and something of a relief!) to get this result. From JIVE's perspective we are excited to see this station rapidly approaching a state in which regular science observations are possible, in order to fill a significant geographic gap in our current network."

The announcement from the ministers of Ghana and South Africa is confirmation that local expertise is being established in the AVN. JIVE is proud to be a partner in this process and is focussed on continuing to build on this initial success in the coming years.

 

Additional Information

The telescopes involved in the successful detection were part of the EVN and included: Badary Radio Astronomical Observatory (Institute of Applied Astronomy, Russia), Effelsberg Radio Telescope (Max-Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy, Germany), Hartebeesthoek Radio Astronomy Observatory (National Research Foundation, South Africa), Jodrell Bank Observatory (University of Manchester, UK), Medicina Radio Observatory (National Institute for Astrophysics, Italy), Onsala Space Observatory (Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden), Svetloe Radio Astronomical Observatory (Institute of Applied Astronomy, Russia), Toruń Centre for Astronomy (Nicolaus Copernicus University, Poland), Ürümqi Astronomical Observatory (Chinese Academy of Sciences, China), Ventspils International Radio Astronomy Centre (Latvian Academy of Sciences, Latvia), Westerbork Synthesis Radio Telescope (ASTRON, the Netherlands), Yebes Observatory (National Geographic Institute, Spain), and Zelenchukskaya Observatory (Institute of Applied Astronomy, Russia).

For more information on the AVN and the Kutunse instrument see www.ska.ac.za.

Nine African partner countries are members of the SKA AVN, including Botswana, Ghana, Kenya, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, and Zambia.

 

Image captions

The team in Ghana and Dr. Jay Blanchard from JIVE in front of the telescope involved in the first successful VLBI experiment. Image courtesy of Bernard Asabere, Ghana Space Science and Technology Institute.

A plot of the fringes detected during the first successful VLBI experiment. Image copyright: JIV-ERIC.

 

More about VLBI, the European VLBI Network and JIVE

VLBI is an astronomical method by which multiple radio telescopes distributed across great distances observe the same region of sky simultaneously. Data from each telescope is sent to a central "correlator" to produce images with higher resolution than the most powerful optical telescopes.

The European VLBI Network (EVN; www.evlbi.org) is an interferometric array of radio telescopes spread throughout Europe, Asia, South Africa and the Americas that conducts unique, high-resolution, radio astronomical observations of cosmic radio sources. Established in 1980, the EVN has grown into the most sensitive VLBI array in the world, including over 20 individual telescopes, among them some of the world's largest and most sensitive radio telescopes. The EVN is administered by the European Consortium for VLBI, which includes a total of 15 institutes, including the Joint Institute for VLBI ERIC (JIVE).

The Joint Institute for VLBI ERIC (JIVE; www.jive.eu) has as its primary mission to operate and develop the EVN data processor, a powerful supercomputer that combines the signals from radio telescopes located across the planet. Founded in 1993, JIVE is since 2015 a European Research Infrastructure Consortium (ERIC) with six member countries: France, Latvia, the Netherlands, United Kingdom, Spain and Sweden; additional support is received from partner institutes in China, Germany, Italy and South Africa.

Contacts

Gina Maffey
Science Communication Officer
Email: maffey [at] jive [dot] eu
Telephone: +31 521 596 543

Francisco Colomer
Policy Officer and Project Manager
Email: colomer [at] jive [dot] eu
Telephone: +31 521 596 512

Jay Blanchard
Support Scientist
Email: blanchard [at] jive [dot] eu
Telephone: +31 521 596 508

copyright 2021 JIVE