New radio telescope in South Africa will study galaxy formation

Today, the Square Kilometre Array (SKA), a continent-spanning radio astronomy project, announced that Spain has come on board as the collaboration’s 11th member. That boost will help the sometimes-troubled project as, over the next year or so, it forms an international treaty organization and negotiates funding to start construction. Meanwhile, on the wide-open plains of the Karoo, a semiarid desert northeast of Cape Town, South Africa, part of the telescope is already in place in the shape of the newly completed MeerKAT, the largest and most powerful radio telescope in the Southern Hemisphere.

About MeerKAT:

MeerKAT is a followup to the KAT 7 (Karoo Array Telescope), built in the vast semi-desert Karoo region north of Cape Town to demonstrate South Africa’s ability to host the SKA. It will be the biggest radio telescope of its kind in the southern hemisphere.

Built at a cost of 4.4 billion rands, MeerKAT will be incorporated into the complex Square Kilometre Array (SKA) instrument, which when fully operational in the late 2020s would be the world’s biggest and most powerful radio telescope.

MeerKAT will address some of the key science questions in modern astrophysics – how did galaxies form, how are they evolving, how did we come to be here.

The Square Kilometre Array (SKA) project is an international effort to build the world’s largest radio telescope, with eventually over a square kilometer (one million square meters) of collecting area.

The SKA will eventually use thousands of dishes and up to a million low-frequency antennas that will enable astronomers to monitor the sky in unprecedented detail and survey the entire sky much faster than any system currently in existence.

Its unique configuration will give the SKA unrivaled scope in observations, largely exceeding the image resolution quality of the Hubble Space Telescope. It will also have the ability to image huge areas of sky in parallel a feat which no survey telescope has ever achieved on this scale with this level of sensitivity.

Both South Africa’s Karoo region and Western Australia’s Murchison Shire were chosen as co-hosting locations for many scientific and technical reasons, from the atmospherics above the desert sites, through to the radio quietness, which comes from being some of the most remote locations on Earth.

Whilst 10 member countries are the cornerstone of the SKA, around 100 organizations across about 20 countries are participating in the design and development of the SKA.

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