The MeerKAT radio telescope isn’t even finished being built, but it’s already released its first image: a small patch of sky showcasing 1,300 galaxies.
In comparison, only 70 galaxies were known to exist in this part of the sky, which covers less than 0.01 per cent of the entire celestial sphere.
The telescope in South Africa will eventually consist of 64 dishes, but it’s being built in phases in order to test for any issues that may arise. The first phase, AR1, has only 16 dishes, which is what was able to capture the image. It’s only at 25 per cent capacity! Imagine what we can see when it’s at full power.
MeerKAT will eventually become a part of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA), which is a much larger multiradio-telescope project to be built in Australia and South Africa. According to a press release by SKA, it’s the first step in showcasing what South Africa can contribute to the international space conversation.
“The launch of MeerKAT AR1 and its first results is a significant milestone for South Africa,” said Dr. Rob Adam, the project director of the SKA South Africa division.
“This telescope, which is predominantly a locally designed and built instrument, shows the world that South Africa can compete in international research, engineering, technology and science,” Minister of Science and Technology Naledi Pandor added.
The image may not look like much on first glance, but check out these zoomed in cutouts, pictured below. The two galaxies on the right have massive black holes in their centres. The one on the lower left is approximately 200 million light years away.