1,300 New Galaxies Identified By MeerKAT Radio Telescope - Dispatch Weekly

July 21, 2016 - Reading time: 4 minutes

First images released by the South African MeerKAT Radio telescope have exposed 1,300 new galaxies in the Southern Hemisphere.

Prior to MeerKAT’s discovery, only 70 were believed to have been housed in the universe and known to astronomers. However with the new findings, a significant milestone for MeerKAT, the number of known galaxies in the universe is up by a staggering 1,800 percent.

Astronomers and MeerKAT operators have been working on what’s said to be the world’s most powerful telescope, with it having the ability to publish “first light” images of their momentous discovery. However, the operators believe that this piece of equipment, made up of many interconnected radio dishes, is still a work in progress.

“Right now, with only 16 of the eventual 64 dishes in place, MeerKAT is already better than anything equivalent in the Southern Hemisphere”

said Naledi Pandor, South African Science and Technology Minister, speaking at a press conference on July 18th, 2016.

What Can We Expect?

It is hoped that if progress on the MeerKAT radio telescope continues accordingly, the South African facility will have all 64 dishes up and running by the end of next year. By 2020, it’s planned that the MeerKAT telescope will have been integrated into the international Square Kilometre Array (SKA) project – a network which consists of thousands of radio antennas in both South Africa and Australia that can survey the sky up to 10,000 times faster than anything before. MeerKAT will be standing proud alongside some of the world’s greatest scientific instruments celebrated by SKA.

Should MeerKAT be completed by the end of 2017, it will cover 190,000 square feet of South Africa’s Northern Cape. The significant benefit of the construction being based in Northern Cape is due to fact it has a sparsely populated town and it’s still within proximity to the country’s capital, Cape Town. This will allow the construction to minimise the costs of maintenance and construction work.

MeerKAT radio telescope

Image courtesy of MeerKAT: Each tiny dot is a far-flung galaxy seen in astronomical radio wavelengths

“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 built instrument, shows the world that South Africa can compete in international research, engineering, technology and science. Government is proud of our scientists and engineers for pioneering a radio telescope that will lead to ground-breaking research”, said Minister Pandor.

Current MeerKAT Progress

While MeerKAT has a bright future ahead, it’s already impressing astronomers with its high-resolution images, enabling them to see a turbulent cosmic phenomenon occurring no less than 200 million light-years away.

“In some cases, the radio galaxy can have a great deal of obscuring dust, and you wouldn’t be able to see anything—or almost anything—with an optical telescope”

says Michael Rich, a research astronomer from UCLA. “But with radio, which goes right through the dust, there’s no problem in seeing it.”

Telescopes like MeerKAT will excel at imaging active “radio galaxies” and assisting astronomers through being able to monitor the sky in unprecedented detail and at a much faster rate than any other system currently in place. It will also massively help scientists in need of answers when dealing with dark energy and black holes at the centre of a galax

DW Staff

David Lintott is the Editor-in-Chief, leading our team of talented freelance journalists. He specializes in covering culture, sport, and society. Originally from the decaying seaside town of Eastbourne, he attributes his insightful world-weariness to his roots in this unique setting.