HESS's future in the balance

Located near the Gamsberg mountain – an area well-known for its excellent optical quality, the HESS project is an observatory that Namibians are proud of.

15 October 2018 | Technology

Eberhard Hoffmann

The renowned observatory on farm Göllschau near the Gamsberg, is expected to cease exploration, should operators not agree to the continuation of research activities before a contract comes to an end in 2019.

Should this happen, the five giant telescopes, computer laboratories, workshops and guest quarters for scientists, lose their purpose, not to mention the valuable work that is carried out there.

The internationally run, multi-million dollar HESS (High Energetic Stereoscopic System) project, collaborates with 260 scientists from around 40 scientific institutions in 13 different countries as key partners.

The acronym also honours the Austrian physicist Victor Hess, who was the first to observe cosmic rays in 1912.


Supervising engineer at Göllschau and a driving force behind the observatory, Toni Hanke, said that the formal extension or renewal of the contract with the highly specialized facility, has not yet been formally completed, but that it is nonetheless essential for work to continue at the observatory.

However, Hanke’s communication with scientists and institutes mainly based overseas – including the Max Planck Institute for Nuclear Physics in Heidelberg, Germany – emphasises that the research facility that boasts views of clear night sky without artificial light, should continue to be financed and operated.

For scientifically-minded Namibians, the HESS project has become something to be proud of.

Göllschau also boasts outstanding guest quarters for scientists and PhD students who use the laboratories for cosmic research. They mostly come from the partner institutions in Europe, Namibia and South Africa.


The first of the four telescopes with a mirror surface of 108 m² each, began operation in 2002, with all four being operational by December 2003. The much larger fifth telescope, with a mirror surface of 600 m², has been operational since July 2012, extending coverage towards lower energies and with improved sensitivity.

At HESS energy from millions of light years away is reflected from the mirrors into the special cameras and fed into computers, from which astrophysicists recognise more constellations and black holes.

In 2006, HESS was awarded the Descartes Prize of the European Commission - the highest accolade for collaborative research – and in 2010 it received the prestigious Rossi Prize of the American Astronomical Society.

In a 2006 survey, HESS was ranked the 10th most influential observatory worldwide, joining the ranks with the Hubble Space Telescope or the telescopes of the European Southern Observatory ESO in Chile.

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