Seeing the unseen

This exciting project – a first for Africa – together with a network of telescopes around the globe, aims to obtain the first picture of a black hole.

24 March 2019 | Environment

Bank Windhoek, in conjunction with the University of Namibia (Unam) and Netherland’s Radboud University (RU) Nijmegen, host a scientific event titled ‘Building the Namibian Africa Millimetre Telescope: seeing the unseen’ at the WHS hall on Wednesday (27 March) at 17:30.

The idea is to enlighten and educate Namibians on the ground-breaking Africa Millimetre Telescope (AMT) project – currently in its preliminary design phase – to build a 15m-high single-dish radio telescope at the summit of the Gamsberg.

Also known as Namibia’s Table Mountain, the site has been identified by international scientists as the perfect location, due to its proximity, positioning, dry climate and a height of 2 350m above sea level, to capture first-of-a-kind high resolution photographs of black holes in the universe.

What are black holes?

Black holes can be described in two ways: One definition is that a black hole is part of the natural evolution of massive stars. As certain types of stars reach the end of their life, part of its death process is a massive explosion at its very core, a phenomenon called a supernova. This massive explosion causes the star to release huge amounts of energy, resisting its natural gravitational core and causing it to expand to up to five times its original size.

During this explosion, which could last for months, the star shines extra brightly as it emits energy. Once all the energy of the supernova is expended, the intense gravity at the core of the star once again attracts all the surrounding matter to its centre, compressing all the gathered material to the point where the star will collapse under its own weight, creating an object so compact that not even light can escape. There is no natural force that counteracts the collapse of a star.

The second definition of black holes, or singularities, is that they are a prediction of Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. This theory, where gravity is described as a geometric property in the fabric of space and time – or spacetime – and in particular how the curvature of spacetime is directly related to the mass, momentum, and energy of matter.

Simplified, Einstein predicted that a black hole is a region in spacetime that has a gravitational force so strong, that nothing, not even particles and electromagnetic radiation such as light can escape from it.

The missing link

The AMT, a collaborative project between Unam’s Department of Physics and RU’s Department of Astrophysics, aims to provide the essential missing link to the network of telescopes around the globe known as the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) which aims to obtain the first picture of a black hole.

“This will provide us with first-time direct evidence of the existence of black holes and deliver solid proof of predictions of the theory of relativity, a major scientific breakthrough,” said AMT’s project director, Marc Klein Wolt, who is expected to introduce the project during the event.

Attendees can expect presentations by representatives from Unam and RU. Unam’s Vice Chancellor, Prof Kenneth Matengu, will expand on the importance of the AMT project to Namibia, while AMT’s lead professor, Heino Falcke, is expected to deliberate on black hole science as a subject matter.

Mobile planetarium

The AMT will be the only radio telescope in the millimetre-wavelength regime in Africa. It is also envisioned as a highly visible and unique enabler of science, education and outreach, capacity enriching, sustainable energy and social-economic development in Namibia. As a preview to the outreach programme that will be developed for the AMT project, a mobile planetarium will be present during the event, allowing school children and other participants to enjoy the wonders of our universe.

Registration is essential and forms can be downloaded from the Bank Windhoek website at Attendance can only be confirmed once a completed registration form is received. Info: Bronwyn Moody on [email protected] or 061 299 1263.

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