Overview of the project

Project leader: Michael Backes, mbackes@unam.na
Project location: Windhoek, Namibia

Project description:
This project is centered on purchasing an optical camera for the use with a 14-inch telescope in Windhoek, Namibia.

Namibia is home to the world’s largest gamma-ray experiment, the High Energy Stereoscopic System (H.E.S.S.) project. Also, the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) telescope will partly be constructed in Namibia and in other several African partner countries. Against this background, the country has been aspiring to engage in serious human capital development programs in astronomy to enable the locals to partake in these world leading scientific experiments.

The Department of Physics of the University of Namibia (UNAM) has been spearheading this process. However, the science goals for both H.E.S.S. and the SKA are so advanced that it presents a challenge to train local students at undergraduate level to directly feed into these experiments without some sort of intermediated educational and observational astronomy program.

For this purpose, we intend to use a close-by, privately owned observatory, known as the Cuno Hoffmeister Memorial Observatory (CHMO). The main instrument of CHMO is a 14-inch Schmitt-Cassegrain reflector telescope, with currently has no optical camera. Our intention is to acquire an optical camera for it and use it to perform photometric observations of various astronomical sources.

The ultimate goal is to gear the Namibian community towards cutting-edge research in multi-wavelength astronomy involving optical, gamma-ray and radio wavelength regimes. This project will also serve as an introductory and intermediate program in which students are introduced to observational astronomy, data reduction and data analysis from which they can acquire the necessary skills to get involved in high level research with H.E.S.S. and the SKA.

Our objectives are to establish Namibia as second hub (the first being South Africa) in southern Africa from which multi-wavelength Astronomy can be conducted. Namibia has excellent dark skies and is therefore an ideal site for optical astronomy as well. With gamma-ray astronomy already existent in the country – the High Energy Stereoscopic System – and the planned Square Kilometre Array telescopes to be build in a few years, this project will put Namibia in a position where it will have the capability to carry out optical follow-up observations to some of the detections made in the gamma-ray and radio regimes on a small scale.

Our expectations are to empower students that will be enrolled in the planned UNAM Astrophysics and PoN Space and Atmospheric Science programs with multi-wavelength observing, data reduction and data analysis skills. Not only are such skills useful in academia but in industry as well

About the project leader:
Dr. Michael Backes is a lecturer in the Department of Physics of the University of Namibia.