First TART telescope deployment in Mauritius marks a milestone for African radio astronomy

April 2024 marked a significant milestone for African radio astronomy with the successful deployment of the first TART (Transient Array Radio Telescope) in Mauritius. The installation took place at the Université des Mascareignes (UdM), Bel Air campus, under the auspices of Rhodes University’s Professor Oleg Smirnov, UdM’s Dr Keshav Sewraj, Dr Max Scheel of the Electronics Research Foundation (New Zealand), and South African Radio Astronomy Observatory’s (SARAO) Dr Nadeem Oozeer.

TART volunteers Keshav Sewraj, Max Scheel, Oleg Smirnov, Nadeem Oozeer during assembly of the TART array at the workshop. Image courtesy of Oleg Smirnov, licensed under CC BY 4.0‍.

This achievement highlights the collaborative efforts of multiple institutions and funding bodies committed to expanding scientific research and training opportunities across the continent.

TART is a low-cost, innovative telescope design developed by Dr Tim Molteno’s group at the University of Otago in New Zealand. This technology was introduced at Rhodes University in 2022 in a collaborative effort involving the University of Otago, Rhodes University, and Stellenbosch University. The current deployment in Mauritius is part of a broader initiative funded by SARAO and supported by the Development in Africa with Radio Astronomy (DARA) programme, aiming to establish TART telescopes in various African partner countries.

The installation workshop at Université des Mascareignes took place from 14-19 April 2024 and was led by Dr Sewraj from the local organising committee. This event marked the first implementation of the new spiral antenna concept and the first TART telescope installation in an African partner nation.

Despite logistical challenges, including flooding in both Dubai (which threatened to derail Dr Scheel’s journey) and Mauritius, the team successfully made the telescope operational, achieving calibrated imaging by the end of the workshop. “The team did an amazing job working around flooding and the telescope was fully operational and making calibrated images on the last day of the workshop – they did an epic job,” said Professor Smirnov.

The workshop also incorporated public talks aimed at fostering interest and understanding of radio astronomy. These talks covered various aspects of the TART project and were delivered by prominent members of the team, including Dr Molteno, Dr Scheel, Dr Oozeer and Prof Smirnov. Topics included the TART project overview, technical aspects of the TART telescope, radio astronomy imaging, and working with TART data. The audience comprised university students, advanced high-school students, and members of the Mauritian research and education community.

The new array layout, featuring antennas positioned on spiral arms, was designed for on-site fabrication, as well as to optimise imaging performance. The success of this installation is a testament to the meticulous planning and collaboration among international and local experts.

The fully assembled TART spiral antenna array is located on the roof of an Engineering Laboratory building on the Bel Air Campus of Université des Mascareignes. Image courtesy of TART Project Team.

As the TART initiative continues to grow, it promises to bring new research and training opportunities to African nations, further establishing the continent as a significant player in the field of radio astronomy. The programme’s ongoing success will undoubtedly inspire future generations of scientists and researchers across Africa.

For more background reading on the programme, you can visit Low-cost radio telescope brings new research and training opportunities for Africa.

This deployment in Mauritius represents a critical step forward in enhancing Africa’s capabilities in radio astronomy, thanks to the dedication and hard work of the TART team and their collaborators.

UdM: https://udm.ac.mu/

DARA: https://www.dara-project.org

SARAO: https://sarao.ac.za

TART page at University of Otago: https://tart.elec.ac.nz/

Electronics Research Foundation: https://www.elec.ac.nz/

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