How a 'MeerKAT' sniffed out 1,300 new galaxies

The South African radio telescope MeerKAT, which is still under construction, has already spotted 1,300 new galaxies.

MeerKat/SKA South Africa
This montage of MeerKAT First Light radio images shows four zoomed-in insets. The two panels to the right show distant galaxies with massive black holes at their centers. At lower left is a galaxy approximately 200 million light years away, where hydrogen gas is being used up to form stars in large numbers.

Upon its first glance into deep space, the MeerKAT has already identified a bunch of distant galaxies.

South Africa’s radio telescope MeerKAT is considered an early success upon the release of its first image on Saturday. The image shows more than 1,300 galaxies in a region where only 70 had been previously identified – among them, galaxies centered around massive black holes and hydrogen-rich star factories.

“The launch of MeerKAT AR1 and its first results is a significant milestone for South Africa,” said Rob Adam, Project Director of SKA South Africa, in a statement. “Through MeerKAT, South Africa is playing a key role in the design and development of technology for the SKA.”

MeerKAT, which was funded and commissioned by the South African government, will be composed of 64 receptors once completed. So far, only 16 dishes have been completed.

The images produced by MeerKat “are far better than we could have expected”, the chief scientist of the SKA in South Africa, Fernando Camilo, said at the site of the dishes near the small town of Carnarvon, 600 kilometers north of Cape Town, The Guardian reported.

But MeerKAT is merely a precursor to a much larger project.

The Square Kilometer Array (SKA) telescope will include nearly 200 dishes in South Africa and Australia, and will integrate the MeerKAT array. SKA, which begins construction in 2018, is expected to be the world’s most powerful radio telescope, capable of detecting objects billions of light years in the distance.

MeerKAT was designed to contribute significantly to our understanding of cosmology, the study of the structure and evolution of the entire universe in its larger scale,” Naledi Pandor, South Africa’s Science and Technology Minister, told the Cape Times. “In addition, it can help us increase our understanding of the formation and evolution of individual galaxies.”

MeerKAT and SKA have established South Africa as an international competitor in big science, but these projects may also provide significant economic opportunities. The initial MeerKAT project has already employed more than 400 people in infrastructure, fiber optics, and data collection.

“What the nuclear and space programmes did for the US and Russian economies shows how important mega-science is in a nation’s economic development,” Economic Development Minister Ebrahim Patel said in a statement.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to