MeerKAT Radio Telescope Project in South Africa


Hundreds of galaxies have been discovered in a tiny corner of the universe by the South African radio telescope, MeerKAT. According to CNN News, the MeerKAT has been scanning the southern hemisphere since late 2015. At the present time, only 16 of the 64 MeerKAT telescopes are working. The remaining telescopes are scheduled to be finished at the end of 2017.

The Square Kilometer Array (SKA) Project, has more than 20 member countries, of those, Britain hosts the headquarters. Although South Africa is in a slowing economy, it has invested $205 million into the telescope project. The funds mostly came from the public at large, as well as science and research partners. There have already been 500 scientific groups, from 45 countries, who have booked spots for their turn to use the MeerKAT telescope, between 2017 and 2022. South African project director Rob Adam said this technology will bring to astronomers worldwide, the most profound and powerful tool ever used in radio astronomy.

The radio telescope, MeerKAT is under construction in Karoo. It is being constructed in phases to allow the system to be verified, tested, and to be used while other sections are still in the completion phase. Professor Justin Jonas, SKA South Africa chief technologist, says that he is sure that due to the results shown from the MeerKAT, once all 64 dishes are working it will become the world’s leading telescope of its kind. Prime Minister of Science and Technology Naledi Pandor made a statement in a press release that said the telescope locally designed telescope proves to the world that South Africa is able to compete worldwide in science, engineering, and technology.

When the MeerKAT is completed, each one will have a 13.5-meter diameter dish antenna, cryogenic coolers, digitizers, receivers, and other electronics. According to Gizmag, the MeerKAT radio telescope is part of a larger grid, which is the SKA. The larger scale of the SKA will bring together 133 more dishes in South Africa and more than 130,000 low-frequency antennas from Australia. This will allow the universe to be scanned at a rate a thousand times faster than current technology.

Even though the headquarters is located in the U.K., South Africa and Australia are the main places of operation. The SKA is set to be fully operational by the 2020s, and will consist of about 3,000 dishes that will be placed within 0.4 square miles. The SKA will be focusing the telescope. It will have 10,000 times the ability than current instruments and will be used to research dark energy, supernova, black holes, and looking into the dawning of the universe, 14 billion years ago. The evolution of this technology will enable astronomers to study the evolution of the universe on the largest scale ever available.

The MeerKAT radio telescope has captured images of less than 0.01 percent of the celestial sphere. This means that previous glances into the sky only revealed 70 galaxies, whereas the MeerKAT has now detected more than 1,300 in a distant universe. One of the galaxies that has been seen is 200 million light years away and is reported to be where new stars are forming, from hydrogen gas, in large numbers. The telescope with pick up radio waves billions of light years away. CNN News also reports that there is a massive black hole, FanaroffRiley Class 2, shooting jets of powerful electrons that are moving at close to the speed of light.

By Tracy Blake
Edited by Jeanette Smith & Cathy Milne


Gizmag: MeerKAT First Light image exposes more than 1,300 new galaxies
IOL: MeerKAT stands tall for local science
CNN News: Super telescope finds hundreds of previously undetectable galaxies

Image Courtesy of Martin Burns’ Flickr Page – Creative Commons License

One Response to "MeerKAT Radio Telescope Project in South Africa"

  1. Michael Smorenburg   July 22, 2016 at 12:39 am

    It’s a very exciting project that will have huge spillover into so many fields beyond astronomy and origins.
    Internal medicine comes to mind – all that computing power analyzing the macro will equally be turned inward to study the micro world… I foresee a time in the near future when fMRI scanners will not just see down to millimeter resolution, but to chemical or even atomic levels using SKA technology.


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