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South Africa unveils super radio telescope

16 July 2018

This Radio Telescope is the largest and most sensitive in the southern hemisphere until the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) is completed.

MeerKAT is expected to reveal extraordinary detail in the region surrounding the supermassive black hole at the centre of our Milky Way galaxy.

"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", said David Mabuza, the deputy president of South Africa.

But infrared, X-ray, and some radio wavelengths, like the ones MeerKAT detects, can penetrate this dust, providing a unique view of the region.

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The 64-antenna telescope officially opened its doors on Friday, but has already started operations, including the rare image taken of a burst of activity roughly 25 000 light-years away. He said it is not only South Africa which will be benefit from the telescopes but scientists across the globe.

"We didn't expect to use our telescope so early in the game, it's not even optimized, but to turn it to the centre of the galaxy and obtain these stunning images, the best in the world, tells you you've done something right, better than right", Camilo told Reuters.

"Although it's early days with MeerKAT and a lot remains to be optimised‚ we chose to go for it and were stunned by the results‚" he said. These include some features that could provide a basis for unlocking the mystery of the filaments, says Yusef-Zadeh, who is affiliated with Northwestern University in IL.

"As we make progress with the South African part and move into the SKA 1, the other eight African countries come as co-part of the initiative".

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He said the MeerKAT "shows so many features never before seen" that it could provide the key to cracking astronomical riddles.

South Africa enjoys another unique advantage: the area of focus - the centre of the Milky Way - passes over the country and is visible for roughly 12 hours a day.

An artist's impression of the MeerKAT radio telescope in the Northern Cape. 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. MeerKAT will be incorporated into the complex Square Kilometre Array (SKA) instrument, which when fully operational in the late 2020s.

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South Africa unveils super radio telescope