THE MEERKAT telescope turned its eyes to deep space for the first time last year, and this year has produced even more captivating images with all its 32 eyes. Minister at the Department of Science and Technology, Naledi Pandor, delivered news on the progress of the telescope to parliament on Tuesday.
In July 2016, the SKA team were proud to showcase the “First Light” images taken with the 16 dishes that were operational at the time with the target to add 16 more antennas by March 2017. The MeerKAT telescope is a proudly South African answer to the SKA project and also serves as a precursor to the international project that will be shared with Australia and the rest of the African continent.
In a presentation given to the minister, the lead scientists, Dr Fernando Camilo and Dr Sharmila Goedhart demonstrated some key capabilities of the new 32-dish set-up with a set of images they call AR1.5.
Dr Camilo once explained how having more dishes for a radio telescope acts as a new set of spectacles by showing a clearer image of an object of interest. And so these new images dazzle with unprecedented clarity in radio astronomy so much that the team produced the first ever radio image of a spiral galaxy.
The increase of observation power shows. By comparing images (right) from last year’s 16-dish array, the jets of particles accelerated by a black hole show up more clearly in the 32-metre configuration.
MeerKAT made its first big discovery by identifying a Giant Radio Galaxy that blazes across the sky like an orange linear flame the gargantuan size of 4 million light years. Even greater discoveries and clarity is expected as MeerKAT continues to grow to 64 antennae.
Pandor says R693 million has been allocated to the National Research Foundation to complete MeerKAT.
“The SKA will be the world’s largest and most sensitive radio telescope,” she said. “Key economic benefits from this investment will be the leveraging of foreign direct investment from the SKA Organisation for constructions costs of phase 1 of SKA.”
The MeerKAT team expects to complete the 64-dish array by March 2018.