World’s Largest Telescope Unveiled by South Africa

Mindy Sparks
July 16, 2018

The former Science and Technology Minister, along with other senior government officials, have attended the launch of the precursor to the first phase of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) in Carnarvon in the Northern Cape on Friday.

South Africa has officially launched MeerKAT, the largest and most powerful radio telescope in the southern hemisphere, with a display of the clearest radio image of a super massive black hole yet taken.

Developed with the goal of finding answers to "some of the key science questions in modern astrophysics", such as galaxy formation and evolution, "MeerKAT is the best in the world" to do the job, said Fernando Camilo, chief scientist at SARAO. 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 in particular, radio wavelengths penetrate the obscuring dust and open a window into this distinctive region with its unique 4 million solar mass black hole.

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

The SKA project will also transfer skills and knowledge to African countries, which will build, maintain, operate and use radio telescopes. It's an exceptional achievement, congratulations to our South African colleagues.

The telescope is called the MeerKAT radio telescope, and it's actually made up of 64 individual dishes, all of which detect radio waves.

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. It is also advantageous to observe the center of the galaxy from South Africa, where it passes overhead and is visible for nearly 12 hours each day, unlike from northern hemisphere locations. "This is the eyes, with the MeerKAT being the ears as a radio telescope".

The radio telescope, which was built and operated by SARAO already started to make science operation. The vast amounts of data from the 64 dishes (up to 275 Gbytes per second) are processed in real time by a "correlator", followed by a "science processor", both purpose-built.

The MeerKAT will form part of the larger Square Kilometer Array.

Other reports by Iphone Fresh

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