Scientists working on a new R70m ($5m) radio telescope array in South Africa have begun collecting data on two prototype dish designs that will form the Hydrogen Intensity and Real-time Analysis eXperiment (HIRAX). Tests on the two 6 m dishes, which began in August, will end in December when a call will be made for firms to bid to build the first prototype array.
Once fully operational, HIRAX will consist of 1024 dishes installed in the Karoo region in South Africa. The array will study dark energy as well as track neutral hydrogen gas on cosmic scales. HIRAX will also detect fast-radio bursts — high-energy astrophysical phenomenon that consists of millisecond radio pulses — and be used to pinpoint their location. Indeed, such bursts are hard to detect and localize as they are so brief, and most telescopes only observe a small region of the sky.
Scientists on the HIRAX project began working on the dish design last year in collaboration with South African-based partners including the South African Radio Astronomy Observatory in Hartebeesthoek outside Johannesburg. Funding for the HIRAX prototype dishes has been provided by the University of KwaZulu Natal and South Africa’s National Research Foundation.