MeerKAT has attracted astronomers, engineers and data scientists from all over the world
Scientists and politicians in South Africa celebrate the official opening of a gigantic telescope that already exists The transformation of the Astronomy Research into the Nation
A ceremony broadcast live on national television networks from a remote location in the North Cape Province on July 13 marked the completion of the high-performance MeerKATT radio telescope, which was designed and funded in New York
A series of 64 bowls each 1
The 4.4 billion rand (US $ 330 million) project will eventually be part of a future intercontinental facility called the Square Kilometer Array (SKA), which will be the world's largest radio wave when completed (19659004) " With this new instrument, South Africa is at the forefront of astronomy and data science, "said SK Diamond's Director-General Phil Diamond at the launch. "The expected success of the SKA strongly depends on the MeerKAT."
David Mabuza, deputy president of the country, participated in the ceremony, along with numerous members of his cabinet, including the current Science Minister and four former Science Ministers, all of whom have a hand in the project.
"MeerKAT is an iconic instrument," said Mabuza. "We are proud that a project of this magnitude was completed on time and within budget."
Milky Way pictured
Parts of MeerKAT collect data since its establishment in 2016. At the ceremony The scientists unveiled a picture that was made with all 64 bowls: the most detailed radio image of the center of the Milky Way, which is a supermassive black hole contains (see picture above).
MeerKAT is expected to be fully scientifically ready for the next few months; Two projects, one for transient astronomical events known as transients, and another for studying hydrogen abundance in galaxies are already in progress. Transients involve fast radio impulses that can last for a few seconds and are one of the most astonishing phenomena in astronomy, while astronomers are interested in hydrogen, because the abundant element is, among other things, the fuel of stars and can be used
MeerKAT uses one Technique called interferometry, in which many shells or antennas act together as a single telescope. Each dish collects the relatively weak radio signals from space that must be combined, filtered and converted into data useful to astronomers.
The project has spurred the country's astronomy ambitions to set conditions in places like the Northern Cape, a sparsely populated area selected for its cloudless skies. These ambitions – and the appeal of the SKA – have already attracted astronomers, engineers, and data scientists from around the world. Many of his SKA and astronomy-specific research chairs – university positions dedicated to research and postgraduate education – have been awarded to foreign scientists or attracted local scientists from other countries.
"MeerKAT has taken me to South Africa," says Fernando Camilo, chief scientist at the South African Radio Astronomy Observatory, who moved from the US to South Africa in 2016 to join the MeerKAT project.
In the early 2000s, before the country threw its hat into the ring hosted by the SKA and began a concerted effort to grow its astronomy research base, there were about 10 dedicated radio astronomers, says Justin Jonas, chief technologist on radio astronomy Observatory of South Africa and an initial driver of the SKA project in South Africa. Many of their universities now have strong radio astronomy groups. "At that time our astronomers went abroad to do astronomy, now we are the attraction," he says.
Scientists and officials expect MeerKAT to continue promoting South African science. For the time being, the scientists are chasing the Meerkat data: "The preliminary data are better than we expected," says Michael Kramer, director of the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Germany, who is involved in a project Transients and Pulsars with MeerKAT ,
He says some of his colleagues moved to South Africa to participate in the project, while others visit regularly. "The best telescope of its kind will do that."
MeerKAT will house eight "large survey" projects, some of which are led by South Africans, some by foreign scientists, each of whom spans more than 1,000 hours of observation over five years. More than half of them will be studying hydrogen, says Camilo. The remaining observation time, about a third, will be assigned to astronomers worldwide through an open call.
The 64 MeerKAT shells will eventually be absorbed into the first phase of the SKA, which will consist of another 130 shells in South Africa and up to 130,000 antennas in Australia. Construction is scheduled to start in 2020.
This article was reproduced with permission and first published on July 13, 2018.