South Africa’s MeerKAT radio telescope showed off its phenomenal power, revealing 1,300 galaxies in a tiny corner of the universe where only 70 were known before. MeerKAT’s full contingent of 64 receptors will be integrated next year into a multi-nation Square Kilometre Array (SKA), which is, set to become the world’s most powerful radio telescope.
When fully up and running in the 2020s, the SKA will comprise a forest of 3,000 dishes spread over an area of a square kilometre (0.4 square miles) across remote terrain around several countries allow astronomers to peer deeper into space in unparalleled detail. It will have a discovery potential 10,000 times greater than the most advanced modern instruments and will explore exploding stars, black holes, dark energy, and traces of the universe’s origins some 14 billion years ago.
MeerKAT is being built in the remote and arid southwest of the Karoo region of South Africa that offers prime conditions for astronomers. It will serve as one of the two main clusters of SKA. The other will be in Australia. Some 200 scientists, engineers and technicians working in collaboration with industry, local and foreign universities have developed the technologies, hardware and software systems for MeerKAT.
South African Minister of Science and Technology Naledi Pandor stated that “this the first time that an African group of countries will host global science infrastructure of this character”. More than 20 countries are members of the SKA, including Britain, which hosts the headquarters of the project. South Africa, which hosts the bulk of the SKA project, has so far invested three billion rands ($205 million) into the telescope project, funded mainly from the public purse and science research partners.
Already some 500 scientific groups from 45 countries have booked slots to use the MeerKAT array between next year and 2022.