A 64-dish radio telescope called MeerKAT has been fired up in Carnarvon, South Africa. In the future, MeerKAT will be part of a larger instrument called Square Kilometer Array (SKA), a massive multi-radio telescope project expected to span about one square kilometer, which is what the SKA name refers to. The project won’t be fully operational until the end of the next decade, but will be the most powerful of its kind when that day comes.
MeerKAT is a precursor telescope for the array, according to SKA. The facility had its inaugural ceremony near Carnarvon today, though it has already started operations. The image above showing supernova remnants, among other things, was captured by the telescope, which is operated by the South African Radio Astronomy Observatory (SARAO).
The telescope is described as a world-class facility by itself, but it is a relatively small cog in the grand scheme of things — the system will eventually be incorporated into a mid-frequency array featuring about 200 dishes as part of the SKA in the Karoo region.
To put it in perspective, MeerKAT’s 64 dishes result in 2,000 antenna pairs, according to SKA, and those are able to capture high-fidelity images. The facility exceeds what is available from comparable telescopes and has already provided us with the clearest image ever of our galaxy’s central regions. MeerKAT is the result of years of work.
Talking about the telescope is SARAO’s chief scientist Fernando Camilo, who said:
We wanted to show the science capabilities of this new instrument. The centre of the galaxy was an obvious target: unique, visually striking and full of unexplained phenomena – but also notoriously hard to image using radio telescopes. Although it’s early days with MeerKAT, and a lot remains to be optimised, we decided to go for it – and were stunned by the results.