The powerful South African radio telescope MeerKAT has identified 1,300 new galaxies in a small part of the universe, where researchers previously had only found 70 of these cosmic formations.
To make the discovery, astronomers used 16 out of the 64 recently build dishes and nearly instantly discovered the never-before-seen galaxies making one of the most important discoveries in the last decades.
Each of the antennas has 13.4 meters in diameter, and the telescope will be fully operational in 2017.
However, MeerKat is part of a giant network of Universe Explorers: The Square Kilometer Array (SKA).
This network will join around 3,000 dishes and up to a million antennas that will analyze the Universe with a never-before-seen precision, and a thousand times faster than current technology allows.
“South Africa has already demonstrated its excellent science and engineering skills by designing and building MeerKAT. This telescope, which is predominantly a locally designed and constructed apparatus, shows the world that South Africa can compete in international research, engineering, technology, and science. The government is proud of our scientists and engineers for pioneering a radio telescope that will lead to groundbreaking research,” said Naledi Pandor, South Africa’s minister of science and technology.
MeerKAT is expected to lead the road for a new generation of radio telescope explorers. MeerKAT is one of the greatest array dishes ever established in the African Continent. Its other cluster will be located in Australia, in an effort to created the world’s largest radio telescope.
When fully operational in the 2020’s, the SKA project will have a discovery potential a staggering 10,000 times better than the MOST ADVANCED instruments today. The project will be used to research exploding stars, black holes, dark energy and traces of our universe’s origins billions of years ago.
In a small patch of sky covering less than 0.01 percent of the entire celestial sphere, the MeerKAT First Light image shows more than 1300 galaxies in the distant Universe, compared to 70 known in this location prior to MeerKAT. “Based on the results being shown today, we are confident that after all 64 dishes are in place, MeerKAT will be the world’s leading telescope of its kind until the advent of SKA,” according to Professor Justin Jonas, SKA South Africa Chief Technologist. (Source)
‘What this will do is bring to South African and world astronomers, the most astonishing and profoundly powerful instrument ever used before in radio astronomy,’ SKA South Africa project director Rob Adam told AFP.
Over 20 countries are part of the SKA project. Around 500 scientific groups from 45 different countries have reserved their slot to use the MeerKAT array between 2017 and 2022.
You can find the SKA Africa announcement here.