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A “Game Changer” for Namibia’s Next Generation of Astrophysicists

Eli Kasai is an optical astronomer at the University of Namibia, and he is working on a project to bring a millimeter wave telescope to the country, which will be the first of its kind in Africa. Known as the Africa Millimetre Telescope (AMT), Kasai says it could provide the “missing link in the study of black holes.” A millimeter wave telescope is designed to detect radio waves from objects in space whose wavelengths are in the region of one millimeter. These waves can penetrate the clouds of dust between a black hole and Earth. Black holes form in outer space when stars collapse or fall in on themselves and the gravitational pull is so strong that not even light can escape. This makes them invisible to the human eye. The AMT, consisting of a 15-meter single-dish radio telescope, will be positioned at an altitude of more than 2,300 meters on the side of the Gamsberg Mountain in southern Namibia. “It’s completely flat there. It’s really ideal for erecting this type of structure up there,” said Michael Backes, a colleague of Kasai’s also working on the project. The cost of the AMT has been estimated at around $20 million which includes the shipment of the radio dish from Chile, assembly and build of the power supply and data center on the Gamsberg Mountain. Around 25% of this has been raised so far by the University of Namibia, University of Radboud in the Netherlands, European Southern Observatory and The Dutch Research School for Astronomy. The AMT team is currently fundraising for the remaining sum with the telescope expected to start observations in 2024.