Science: Astronomy:

32 Meter Radio Telescopes in the Arabian Region

By Dr. M. A. Mosalam Shaltout
Space Research Center, Desert Environment Research Institute,
Minufiya University, El-Sadat City, Egypt

The paper presents the importance of building two new Radio Telescopes of 32 meters in diameter and operating in the range of frequency from 1.4 to 43 GHz; one unit is to be located in the South of Egypt (Abu-Simbel), and the other in the South of the Arabian Peninsula. From their inception, both telescopes would be of great interest for the International Radio Astronomy Community, especially from EVN.

1. Introduction:

The first Radio Telescope in the Arabian Region was built on the top of the North Mountain of Iraq, near the border between Iraq and Turkey, with diameter 32 meters. This operation was developed under the guidance of the Max Plank Institute for Radio Astronomy of Bonn, Germany in the 1980’s. Unfortunately, during the Iraq-Iran war in 1980’s, the telescope was severely damaged by the Iranian air force, which thought it was a military component.

The first discussions on a possible new radio telescope in Egypt began during the fifth UN/ESA workshop on basic space science held in January 1996 in Colombo, Sri Lanka (Shaltout and Schwartz), and continued during the sixth UN/ESA workshop held in September 1996 in Bonn, Germany.

An invited paper entitled “The Activities of the Max-Plank Institute for Radio Astronomy (MPIFR) under the Aspect of Scientific Co-operation P.E Very Long Base Line Interferometery”, was presented during the 14th National Radio Science Conference held in Cairo University, Egypt from 23 to 25 March, 1997 [1]; this presentation led to a recommendation giving the project of a new radio telescope a high priority. Subsequently, a two-week scientific visit from the Egyptian side (Shaltout) for MPIFR in April 1997 was done to complete the discussion of cooperation in building the radio telescope at Egypt.

2. The Problem:

Shilizzi, in his paper “Current Developments in VLBI Astronomy on the Ground and in Space” as published in Radio Science Bulletin in 1995, said that considerable effort went into the optimum placing of the VLBI antennas for uv-coverage. No such license was available for the EVN; the telescopes are where they are. A figure depicting the uv-coverage for the EVN at 22 GHz in 1996, was included in this paper. The coverage is good at northern declinations where radio sources pass overhead of the majority of telescopes, but gaps appear at lower declinations and the coverage becomes more one dimensional the closer the sources are to the equator. A telescope near the equator between the European and South African telescope at Hortebeesthoek would help solve this problem [2].

3- The Solution:

At the 15th National Radio Science Conference (March 1998) held at Helwan University, Cairo, Egypt, an invited paper about the importance of building a Radio Telescope of 32 meter diameter at Abu-Simbel in the upper Egypt was presented by Shaltout. After revision, the same paper was published in the Radio Science Bulletin in March 1999 [3].

Shaltout in his paper [3] saw that the solution to the problem is to build a radio telescope at Abu-Simbel in the upper Egypt. But why Abu-Simbel?

Abu-Simbel is small village on the western bank of Nasser Lake in upper Egypt, with the coordinates of latitude 22o 20. 22\ N, longitude 31o 36. 97\ E, and an altitude of 200 meters above sea level. It is approximately mid-way between the Northern west telescope in the EVN and South Africa, and it completely satisfies two important requirements for modern radio observatories:

- A site far from population centers, which affords a degree of freedom from artificial interference [4].

- The dry atmosphere conditions necessary for high frequency radio astronomy [5].

The total population of Abu Simbel is not more than 5000 persons; they mostly work in the field of tourism related to Abu Simbel temple of Pharaon Ramses II. It is 270 km South of Aswan, with a small local electric grid. Its climatic conditions are extremely favorable for astronomical observation in general; the atmospheric transparency is excellent, and the site is almost cloudless year around. The annual mean value of precipitation is 1mm and evaporation is 20 mm per day. The humidity during summer is less than or equal to 13%, and 37% in the winter. The mean yearly air temperature is equal to +26 oC, in January +16.7 oC, and in July +33.7oC. Minimum and maximum values of air temperature reach +2 oC and +50 oC once in decades. The total sky cover per day is one oktas (cloudiness unit) as the annual mean. Abu Simbel has an international airport with a low traffic density (five or six flights per day) for tourism. This airport will be helpful for fast transport of the magnetic tape observations to the EVN Data processor at JIVE.

The suggested radio telescope in Abu Simbel will be similar to three radio telescopes in EVN; two are in Italy at Bologna and Noto and operated by istituto di radio astronomica, and the third is in United Kingdom at Cambridge, and operated by the Nuffield Radio Astronomy Laboratories. The diameter of the telescope will be 32 meters, and will work in a frequency range from 1.4 to 43 GHz. The climatic conditions in Abu Simbel are ideal for centimeter and millimeter radio observations. The cooperation of various interested international institutions and organizations is being explored.

Schilizzi, in his invited paper, "The European VLBI Network, its new data processor at JIVE, and opportunities for expansion”, which was presented during the 16th National Radio Science Conference (held in Ain-Shams University, Cairo, Egypt in February 1999), spoke of the importance of a Abu-Simbel Radio telescope to link EVN with Asia Pacific telescopes [6].

In June 1998 a two-week scientific visit was made by Shaltout for MPIFR for associate research regarding the new telescope at Abu-Simbel in Egypt.

4- What Can be Expected From a New Radio Telescope in Upper Egypt?

In their paper, Schwartz and Shaltout, (which is titled by the same title as this paper) [7], said the participation of the new telescope in the EVN for VLBI would be an advantage for two aspects:

- On one hand the telescope would be of great interest to the international astronomy community from its inception. The project would have access to scientific sponsoring programs and would have partners in the developed countries.

- On the other hand, the new telescope would improve the observational quality of the EVN by giving significantly better uv-coverage. The uv-coverage is one of the fundamental features of an interferometer and indicates the degree of filling of the simulated telescope.

The sites of the EVN telescopes were not chosen for the creation of the best-filled array, as most of the Network telescopes existed before the VLBI technique was adopted. Therefore. the EVN is very weak in coverage in the North to South direction.

A simulation of the uv- coverage for the source 3C273 when observed with the existing EVN at 5 GHz shows that the coverage is not ideal. The uv-coverage can be significantly improved by adding a telescope located in upper Egypt.

There are numerous research programs for a new radio telescope within the national scientific interest, as well as studies in international cooperation. The main advantage is given by adopting VLBI technique and the participation in the EVN, in space VLBI, as well as in nm – VLBI. The adoption of VLBI technique will also open the use of the telescope for research in Geodesy and Geodynamics.

The cooperation of interested international institutions is being explored; the Minufiya University offers encouragement for building this telescope through international collaboration, especially with the EVN.

5. The New Radio Telescope in the Arabian Peninsula (The Gulf Observatory):

The author was invited as consultant to an astronomical meeting for building the associated Gulf observatory; this meeting was held in Kuwait from 16 to 18 April 2002. A similar 32-meter Radio Telescope was suggested by the author for the Gulf observatory [7] for six countries: Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, Emirates, and Oman. The terrains of southwestern region of Saudi Arabia and the eastern region of Oman feature mountains with heights in excess of 3000 meters above sea level, are very dry, and feature a latitude of about 20 o + 3 North. The suggested telescope was included in the recommendations of the meeting, which raised to the technical committee of the supreme council of the Gulf for Kings and Princes for confirmation and their consideration of financing it. To satisfy this aim, more technical effort from EVN must be given to the Scientific Club of Kuwait and King Abd Al-Aziz City for Science and Technology in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in order to clarify the importance of this new radio telescope for the Gulf countries and the European countries (EVN).

6. Conclusion:

Two new 32-meter diameter Radio Telescopes, working in the frequency range between 1.4 to 43 GHz, with one located in Abu-Simbel in Egypt, and the other in the south of the Arabian Peninsula, would be of great interest to the international radio astronomy community from their inception, particularly for EVN.


1. R. Schwartz; the Activities of the Max-Plank-Institute for Radio Astronomy (MPIFR) Under the Aspect of Scientific Cooperation P.E. Very Long Baseline Interferometry, Invited paper No. 2, Proceedings of the Fourteenth National Radio Science Conference (NRSC-97), Cairo – Egypt, March 23-25, 1997. Published by the Egyptian National Radio Science Committee, Academy of Scientific Research and Technology, and IEEE, Cairo, Egypt, (1997).

2. R. T. Schilizzi; Current Developments in VLBI Astronomy on the Ground and in Space, The Radio Science Bulletin No. 273, pp. 14-28, (1995).

3. M. A. Mosalam Shaltout; Abu Simbel Radio Telescope Project in the Upper Egypt, The Radio Science Bulletin No. 288, pp. 8-12, (1999).

4. M. Ishiguro and Radio Protection Groups in NRO; Radio Interference at Nobeyama Radio Observatory, 23rd General Assembly of International Astronomical Union, August 17-30, 1997, Kyoto, Japan.

5. Joshua Roth; Will the sun set on Radio Astronomy, Sky and Telescope, April 1997, pp. 40-43, (1997).

6. R. T. Schilizzi, “ The European VLBI Network, its new data processor at JIVE, and opportunities for expansion”, Proceedings of 16th National Radio Science Conference, Cairo, NRSC- 99, invited paper No. 1.

7. R. Schwartz, and M. A. Mosalam Shaltout; What can we expect from a new Radio Telescope in upper Egypt? ; Astrophysics and Space Science 273, pp. 273-288, 2000.

8. M.A. Mosalam Shaltout; Scenario for the Gulf Observatory, The Astronomical Meeting for the Gulf Observatory, 16-18 April 2002, organized by the Scientific Club of Kuwait, Kuwait. (In Arabic).

BWW Society member Professor Dr. Mosalam Shaltout is Chairman of the Space Research Center at the Desert Environment Research Institute of Minufiya University, in El-Sadat City, Egypt. While still pursuing his advanced education, Dr. Shaltout worked as a Research Assistant at the National Research Institute of Astronomy and Geophysics (NRIAG) in the Helwan area of Cairo, Egypt between 1968 and 1977. He then worked as a Researcher at NRIAG from 1978 to 1981. Following this, from 1981 to 1985 Dr. Shaltout served as an Associate Professor of Solar-Terrestrial Physics in the Faculty of Science of King Abd-EI-Aziz University in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. He has been a full Professor at NRIAG since May 1987, and was Vice Chairman of the Solar and Space Research Department from 1989 to 1995, and Chairman of the same department from 1995 to 1998. In addition to his service in academia, Dr. Shaltout was a consultant for the New and Renewable Energy Authority in Cairo from 1990 to 1991. He is the author of Egyptian Solar Radiation Atlas, the first book of its kind, and Typical Solar Radiation Year of Egypt. Other books he has penned are The Sun and Nile Flooding and Energy Management and the Future Horizons. He has written many scientific and technical articles for international professional journals, including approximately 80 articles in the field of Solar Energy and the Environment, and about 50 papers in the field of Space Science and Technology.

Dr. Shaltout is one of the most famous intellectuals in the Arab world, and is well known to the general public through television, radio and daily newspapers. He is an independent writer on the subjects of national strategy and projects in the fields of scientific research, technology development, energy and the environment.

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