Published: Mon, July 16, 2018
Science | By Michele Flores

Launch of the MeerKAT celebrated

Launch of the MeerKAT celebrated

The MeerKAT is the precursor to the R10-billion Square Kilometre Array (SKA) - an global enterprise to build the largest and most sensitive radio telescope globally.

The South African government officially launched the 64-dish MeerKAT array, a significant milestone in radio astronomy, in Carnarvon in the country's Northern Cape on Friday.

"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", according to Camilo. These filaments were discovered by the Very Large Array radio telescope in New Mexico in the 1980s but astronomers have yet to unveil its origin. Lying some 250,000 light-years from Earth and hiding behind the Sagittarius constellation, this supermassive black hole is impenetrable for ordinary telescopes, which can't peer through the clouds of gas and dust that constantly envelop it.

However, infrared, X-ray, and radio wavelengths penetrate the dust and open a window into this distinctive region. "Although it's early days with MeerKAT, and a lot remains to be optimised, we chose to go for it - and were stunned by the results".

It has been a decade in the making‚ and now the MeerKAT radio telescope has been unveiled.

Yusef-Zadeh adds that 'MeerKAT now provides an unsurpassed view of this unique region of our galaxy.

MeerKAT captures centre of the Milky Way
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The team responsible for the MeerKAT project consisted mostly of South Africans, including members of the communities in the area.

While it looks like a fiery swirling mess, the image shows never-before-seen features, such as the compact sources of those long, magnetised filaments that come off the central region.

The dishes are of a highly efficient design with up to four cryogenic receiver systems operating in different bands of the radio spectrum.

The vast amounts of data from the 64 dishes are processed at speeds of up to 275 Gb/s in real-time by a "correlator", followed by a "science processor", both purpose-built.

Chosen because of its remoteness, with hills providing an extra shield against radio interference, the project site is the main African base for hundreds of antennae that will eventually be placed as far as Kenya and Ghana.

When completed, the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) telescopes will enable astronomers to monitor the sky in unprecedented detail and survey the entire sky much faster than any system now in existence, according to the project.

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