MeerKAT telescope set to unlock more secrets of the universe

April 11, 2018  — 

Scientists have already begun work on the South Africa component of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) project, the MeerKAT telescope. The SKA project is a global scientific initiative, with radio telescopes being built in Australia and South Africa. Located in the Northern Cape, around 120km from Carnarvon, the MeerKAT project will comprise 64 dishes and is set to collect data about the universe around us.

Astronomy is a huge investment for South Africa, and aims to stimulate the economy, create jobs for skilled artisans and put the country on the map in terms of scientific discoveries. The ongoing SKA project is reaching some major milestones – early in 2018, the first assembled SKA prototype dish was unveiled in China. The completion of the project is expected in the early 2030s.

This year, The Astrophysical Journal featured the MeerKAT’s first discoveries, a debut for this world-class research instrument. The radio telescope picked up rare activity from an exotic star known as a magnetar. Magnetars are much bigger than neutron stars, and are the strongest magnets in the universe.

The journal mentioned that this dormant star had “woken up” from a three-year slumber and began emitting frequencies that could only have been picked up by the MeerKAT telescope.

The observations were a key part in understanding more about this star and were also added to the journal article in conjunction with findings from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

The MeerKAT also plays an important role in business tourism and boosting visibility for the region. Hundreds of scientists will be visiting the surrounding areas and will need accommodation, transport and access to other facilities, which will benefit the Northern Cape. Further, the project is set to create jobs for close to 50 years and aims to upskill locals in the area.

We look forward to seeing more developments around the MeerKAT project in the future.