HERA

The HERA project (https://reionization.org) has recently received US$5.8M from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation to expand HERA to its full build-out to 350 and to extend the frequency performance down to about 50 MHz to advance Cosmic Dawn science. This exciting gift to MIT fully funds the construction phase of HERA. More details may be found at http://space.mit.edu/mits-jacqueline-hewitt-and-hera-team-given-58m-boost-detect-cosmic-dawn. An overview of the programme may be found in a recent paper in the Publications of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific vol. 129, no. 974 (http://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1538-3873/129/974/045001/pdf).

Construction of HERA is proceeding, and 35 elements are now complete, with substantial components for the first 100 elements in place. With a goal to complete 350 elements by 2020, staffing and procurement in South Africa are ramping up with support from SKA-SA. The majority of this takes place directly within the Karoo and HERA is proud to work with the Karoo community.

Picture1Figure: Image showing the 35 constructed HERA dishes, with installed poles for the next 75 elements. Some of the disused PAPER ground-screens are in the foreground. (Photo credit: Ziyaad Halday, SKA-SA)

While the initial HERA observing seasons completely reuse the PAPER signal path, a new version of the entire signal path will be deployed starting in 2018. Currently, prototypes of the new analog signal path designed and manufactured at Cambridge University are under test, and an initial backward-compatible version will start to be used on site by mid-year. The new correlator (incorporating the new Smart Networked Analog Processor, or SNAP, boards) is being tested at Berkeley and field-tests will also begin mid-year.

The primary change will be to the feed itself. The current version is a re-purposed PAPER dipole optimised for use with HERA. It is sensitive within the 100-200 MHz “EoR” band. With the new funds from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, HERA will operate down to 50 MHz – ideally with a single wide-band feed operating from 50-250 MHz. Efforts are underway at MIT/NRAO and Cambridge to design and test several concepts, with a down-select later this year. Prototypes will be tested at both the Cambridge and Green Bank HERA test sites.

The US-based data archive is currently being transitioned from the University of Pennsylvania to NRAO-Socorro. Hardware is currently being deployed to interface with the NRAO data archive infrastructure. Additionally, many of the important components of the new software and pipeline are finalising development and are being deployed in advance of the next observing season.

While HERA has involved many students and has held ‘cohort summers’ bringing South African graduate students to spend the summer in the US, this year marks a dramatic increase in the broader outreach programme with the funding of the CAMPARE-HERA Astronomy Minority Partnership (CHAMP) as part of the US NSF programme (http://reionization.org/champ/). This programme is an extension of the CAMPARE programme developed and administered by our Cal Poly Pomona partners and has served California and Arizona minority undergraduates for a number of years. These CHAMP Scholars are from disadvantaged regions of the US southwest and the new programme will incorporate the SA cohort programme that HERA has held over the past two years. After an early summer “boot camp” in Pomona, the CHAMP Scholars will spend the summer at one of the HERA institutions to engage with HERA researchers there. The summer will culminate in a CHAMP Symposium in Pomona, which will engage with the students’ home regions.

HERA is a partnership to conduct an experiment to detect and characterise the Epoch of Reionization. Partner institutions in the collaboration are Arizona State University, Brown University, University of California Berkeley, University of California Los Angeles, University of Cambridge, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, National Radio Astronomy Observatory, University of Pennsylvania, Scuola Normale Superiore de Pisa, SKA-South Africa and the University of Washington. Additional collaborators are Cal Poly Pomona, Imperial College, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, University of KwaZulu Natal, Rhodes University and University of Western Cape.


Report provided by David de boer, University of Berkeley, HERA Project Manager