World’s biggest radio telescope launched in South Africa

MeerKAT telescope

A 64-dish MeerKAT radio telescope was unveiled in the remote South African town of Carnarvon, which researchers say it's a huge project that could unlock universe conundrums.

The fiery image shows in extraordinary detail the region surrounding the supermassive black hole at the heart of the galaxy - a target 25,000 light-years away.

Photographing the centre of the galaxy is a hard task, largely because earth's view is obstructed by clouds of gas and dust from the Sagittarius constellation - commonly referred to as "the Teapot". It is obscured by intervening clouds of gas and dust, making it invisible from Earth using ordinary telescopes.

"This is one of several very exciting new views of the universe already observed by the telescope", said SARAO.

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

"It is the first time you have a telescope that will track a radio telescope so that if there are discoveries that are made, you will be able to follow up", Phil Mjwara, director general in the South African ministry of Science and Technology, told reporters.

The telescope will be completely operational during the 2020s and once that's done, it will become the world's largest and most powerful radio telescope.

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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. "This is the eyes, with the MeerKAT being the ears as a radio telescope".

"The telescope will be the largest of its own kind in the world with image resolution quality exceeding the Hubble Space Telescope by a factor of 50 times", David Mabuza, South Africa's deputy president, said on Friday.

"Today is a special day of pride for the continent of Africa".

South Africa has invested 3.2 billion rands ($240m) into the telescope thus far.

MeerKAT is a South African project, consisting of 64 antennas (or dishes), each 13.5 meters in diameter, located on baselines (distances between antenna pairs) of up to 8 km. The first installed set of receivers operates between frequencies of 900 MHz and 1670 MHz.

When completed, the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) telescopes will enable astronomers to monitor the sky in unprecedented detail and survey the entire sky much faster than any system now in existence, according to the project.

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