The Hydrogen Epoch of Reionization Array (HERA) radio telescope has been awarded a grant from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation in the US to the value of $5.8m (~€5.5m).
The construction of HERA started in 2015 and already 35 of the 14-metre diameter dishes have been established. In September 2016, the National Science Foundation (NSF) invested $9.5m in the project and HERA was granted the status of a Square Kilometre Array (SKA) precursor telescope. The NSF funding allowed the array to expand to 240 radio dishes by 2018. This additional funding injection from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation will allow HERA to expand even further to 350 dishes.
This radio telescope will be instrumental in detecting the distinctive signature that would allow astronomers to understand the formation and evolution of the very first luminous sources: the first stars and galaxies in the universe – a period the scientists call the Epoch of Reionization (EoR).
HERA will be able to access a cosmological signal roughly 100,000 times fainter than emissions from the Milky Way and nearby galaxies.
Dr Gianni Bernardi, SKA South Africa senior astronomer working on HERA, said: “The new funding increases the sensitivity of HERA by adding 110 dishes – 350 dishes in total. This increase in collecting area provides the sufficient sensitivity to attempt imaging large ionized bubbles rather than measuring ‘only’ their statistical properties.”
Dr Rob Adam, managing director of SKA South Africa, added: “The SKA project in the Karoo is progressing very well and this additional funding injection is evidence of the confidence the international community has in the excellent skills and results we are demonstrating.”