By Lebo Tshangela

JOHANNESBURG, July 23 — Scientists at the University of the Witwatersrand here are confident that Namibia will win the bid to host the world’s largest gamma ray telescope, the Cherenkov Telescope Array (CTA).

The CTA announcement is expected to be made in October this year. The gamma-ray telescope is an instrument designed to detect and resolve gamma rays from sources outside Earth’s atmosphere.

The project is an initiative to build the next generation ground-based, very high energy gamma ray instrument to serve as an open observatory to a wide astrophysics community and to provide a deep insight into the non-thermal high-energy universe.

The bid is to offer land to install this telescope, infrastructure to support the operation, and to foster a scientific community to be able to manage and to operate the telescope.

Speaking to the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) here Tuesday, Wits University School of Physics researcher Professor Sergio Colafrancesco said Namibia was suitable for a gamma ray telescope because of its desert environment.

Colafrancesco said if Namibia won the bid, it would mean that that South Africa, Namibia and Southern Africa would be able to host the largest platform astronomy in the world. “It will be a platform consisting of the san-geographical region, namely the Karoo and southern Namibia, which will be able to have three major telescopes in the southern hemisphere, the SKA (Square Kilometre Array), the CTA and the South Telescope,” he explained.

“This ability of integrating the largest telescope in radio, gamma ray, in the optical range will bring Southern Africa to be the leading place to offer capacity available to the whole world. There will not be replica of these kinds of facilities on the planet.”

The Wits university professor said the new telescope would allows scientists to discover the pulsar star at the centre of our galaxy. “It’s absolutely astonishing and in the future the telescope will offer much more possibilities to discover other systems like that.”

Wits University, as well as other South African universities, namely North West, Free State and Johannesburg Universities are already working together with Namibia to develop a common scientific community that is able to manage, operate and use the scientific data taken from the CTA.

The universities are helping Namibia to develop a strong active, challenging edge scientific community that will show the world that they are able not to just able to build this telescope but to exploit all the information that this telescope will collect.

Colafrancesco said: “The Wits part will be to help run the data analysis, offer manpower to run the observations and to offer capabilities in scientific exploitation. This will bring about publications or reports which we will be able to make observations and information of this telescope available to the world.

“Wits is the only university in the country that is able to put competence, capacity and capability to both SKA and CTA. We have three colleagues where this telescope is being built, a hundred kilometres from Windhoek.

“There is a community which is being built, called the South African Gamma Ray Community, which involves four big South African universities. The idea is not to replicate what is going to be done for the SKA but to integrate the efforts.

“In the end the benefits for South Africa will be to be able to build a strong integrated community. It will be challenging to be able to manage the challenges offered by the researchers in physics and cosmology in the next decades. In the end the idea is to not just work now on the scientific data but to use our capacity, our investment to human resources, to build up a generation in the new South African researchers.”

He said the aim was to build one of the strongest possible scientific communities, made of African scientists, which would be able to manage the science coming up to our horizon in the next few decades.