Brussels / Santa Cruz de Tenerife, May 8, 2014: Since its discovery back in the 60s, the study of Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB) radiation has been recognized as one of the most powerful tools to study the basic properties of our Universe.
Many experiments have been developed during the last two decades to perform precise measurements of this radiation, including balloon experiments (e.g., Boomerang) and space missions like WMAP and Planck. In this context, the cosmology group at the Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias (IAC) has played a major role, through the development of various CMB experiments that have been installed and operated at the Observatorio del Teide (Canary Islands, Spain).
This started with the Tenerife experiment, which was installed in 1984 and was one of the first to detect the so-called “CMB primary anisotropies”. Many other similar experiments, with increasing capabilities, have been operative from this observatory ever since, some of which have been developed in collaboration with the universities of Manchester and Cambridge in the UK.
Currently this group is leading the QUIJOTE project, a new experiment operative since 2012. Whereas the previous projects focused on the study of the CMB temperature anisotropies, the main goal of QUIJOTE is to measure the primordial polarization of the CMB. The interest of these studies stems from the fact that the CMB encodes a wealth of information about how the Universe evolved at its very beginning, at a tiny fraction of time ≈10-36 sec. after the so called Big Bang event.
Theories dating back to the 80s considered that only around 10-36 seconds after the Big Bang the universe underwent a period of very rapid expansion known as ‘inflation’. This theory remained pure speculation, with little prospects to be confirmed observationally, until in the late 90s a group of cosmologists unveiled a possible way to confirm this theory. They realized that the extremely high energies associated with inflation may have produced a background of gravitational waves (a prediction of Einstein’s General Relativity) that in turn would have left a specific imprint (B-modes or tensor modes) in the polarization pattern of the CMB.
Immediately after, experimentalists started developing the new instrumentation capable of detecting this faint but specific signal. Several experiments, including QUIJOTE, are currently operating in different regions around the Earth. One of these, the BICEP-2 experiment, operating from the South Pole, has recently found the first preliminary evidence for this signal. These results, recently announced in March 2014, if confirmed are of paramount importance not only for our precise understanding of the birth of the Universe but also for the understanding of the
Fundamental Physics description of our World. It is clear nowadays that such a revolutionary change in our perspective on the fundamental physics of the Universe requires definite confirmations by independent and complementary experiments like QUIJOTE.
The first telescope of QUIJOTE is currently operating from the Teide observatory since November 2012. A second telescope, with a new set of receivers is expected to operate soon. The extension of the QUIJOTE project to the Southern hemisphere would bring the enormous and unique advantages of the full sky coverage (an essential ingredient for cosmological probes) and the relative increase in sensitivity by duplicating the number of detectors available to this measurement. These two characteristics (full sky coverage and increased sensitivity) would make this project unique with respect to other competing and future experiments.
This is why our current collaboration, composed of the IAC, the Spanish university of Cantabria and the British universities of Manchester and Cambridge, proposes to develop a set of experiments in South Africa to complement the ongoing observations of the CMB primordial polarization from the Canary Islands.
South Africa, through the participation of Wits University in the QUIJOTE collaboration, is fully committed to facilitate investments in the Science of the Universe to ensure its competitiveness in astronomy, the international leadership of its observatories as well as to diversify the economy and open new opportunities for people and companies (e.g., training, mobility, employment, human capacity development and technological development).
The University of the Witwatersrand (Johannesburg, South Africa), internationally renowned for its commitment to academic and research excellence, will be the hub of the QUIJOTE collaboration in South Africa. Its participation in the QUIJOTE South project will be an asset for the feasibility of the project and a clear/reliable guarantee to maximize the socio-economic-scientific and cultural return of this proposed collaboration with Europe.
The Consortium is fully committed to the socio-economic benefits that the project could bring to South Africa, and specifically to the Karoo region being a possible location for the new QUIJOTE-South experiments. This proposal has, in addition, wide and strong scientific and technological synergies with the South African MeerKAT radio telescope array and with the future Square Kilometer Array (SKA), and has strong inter-connections with the South African Human Capital Development (HCD) program.
In this context, training of South African postgraduate (MSc and PhD) students, post-doc fellows and engineers/technicians in conducting observations, perform data analysis in the Big data context, and in the construction of advanced instrumentation in radio astronomy is foreseen from the very initial stages of the project.
South African researchers/technicians could immediately participate in the current experiment via extended visits at the Teide Observatory and to the IAC headquarters in the Canaries where the observing programme has already started and a new telescope and two instruments are going to be assembled before the end of next year.
It is needless to stress that South Africa, with its vivid framework of research institutions and universities, is definitely mature and experienced to participate in the scientific exploitation of this major experiment at a commensurate level with respect to the other involved European countries. A clear sign of this is its strong involvement in other major radio astronomy projects such as MeerKAT and SKA.
At the moment, the consortium is seeking funding for the extension of the QUIJOTE Experiment to South Africa. If successful, this project will not only be beneficial to science in South Africa, but will also have a significant impact on other areas such as economy, industry and global employment capacity in the (South) African context.
For further information please contact:
Anselmo Sosa Méndez
Institute of Astrophysics Canary Islands
Tel. +34 922 605 336
Ricardo Genova Santos
Institute of Astrophysics Canary Islands
Tel. +34 922 605 276
University of the Witwatersrand
Tel.: +27 11 7176829
ISC Intelligence in Science
Tel: +32 2 88 88 107
ISC Intelligence in Science
Tel: +32 2 88 88 100; Mob: +32 487 163 107
QUIJOTE - South in the Karoo, South Africa
The QUIJOTE (Q-U-I JOint TEnerife) CMB Experiment is a scientific collaboration between the Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias (IAC), the Instituto de Fisica de Cantabria, the Departamento de Ingenieria de Comunicaciones (Santander), the Jodrell Bank observatory (Manchester, UK) and the Cavendish Laboratory (Cambridge, UK). It consists of two telescopes and three instruments dedicated to measure the polarization of the microwave sky in the frequency range between 11 GHz and 42GHz, and at angular scales of 1 degree.
Further information: http://www.iac.es/proyecto/cmb/pages/en/quijote-cmb-experiment.php