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South African SKA precursor telescope MeerKAT goes online

MeerKAT first light

MeerKAT First Light image. Each white dot represents the intensity of radio waves recorded with 16 dishes of the MeerKAT telescope in the Karoo (when completed, MeerKAT will consist of 64 dishes and associated systems). More than 1300 individual objects – galaxies in the distant universe – are seen in this image.

Monday 18 July 2016, Cape Town – The MeerKAT First Light image of the sky, released on Saturday by South African Minister of Science and Technology, Naledi Pandor, reveals previously unseen galaxies, showing the potential of MeerKAT and SKA.

On Saturday, MeerKAT achieved its first significant scientific milestone by using 16 of its eventual 64 dishes integrated into a working telescope array. 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.

“First Light is a significant achievement in the lifetime of a project and we congratulate our South African colleagues on this fantastic preliminary result” said Prof. Philip Diamond, Director-General of the SKA Organisation which oversees the delivery of the international SKA project. “This bodes very well for the science SKA will deliver once the 64 MeerKAT dishes are integrated into the 197-dish SKA array in South Africa.”

Read the full press release from SKA South Africa here.