Honoring the Infinite Potential for Discovery with MeerKAT

South Africa’s MeerKAT telescope has proven to be a valuable asset in the field of astronomy, with the discovery of 49 new galaxies earlier this year. The telescope, which is made up of 64 antennas spread over an eight-kilometer area, has drawn interest from researchers across the globe, including Kenya, the UK, the Netherlands, Italy, the USA, France, Australia, and Germany due to its sensitivity and precision.

The MeerKAT has been instrumental in revitalizing African astronomy, with a new generation of PhD students and postdocs receiving training in its operation. The telescope has also led to the creation of over 300 papers since the publication of the MeerKAT team’s first paper in 2019.

The newly discovered galaxies, known as the 49ers, were detected through faint radio waves emitted by the gas known as neutral hydrogen. These galaxies were found unexpectedly while the team was analyzing data collected over just three hours in April 2021. These findings indicate that most star-forming galaxies are located within rotating, pancake-shaped discs of gas and dust that fuel the formation of stars.

The MeerKAT’s increased sensitivity and larger frequency bandwidth have allowed it to detect star-forming gas at greater distances, thereby increasing the chances of discovering new galaxies. This has led to the MeerKAT team receiving the Group Achievement Award from the Royal Astronomical Society in 2023 for their significant advances in radio astronomy.

The MeerKAT telescope will soon be expanded by the addition of 14 new dishes, a project known as MeerKAT+. This expansion, funded by SARAO, the Max Planck Society in Germany, and Italy’s Istituto Nazionale di Astrofisica, is expected to significantly improve the telescope’s sensitivity, angular resolution, and the quality of detailed radio images of faint radio sources.

The MeerKAT will eventually become part of the mid-frequency component of the Square Kilometre Array’s (SKA) first phase, which will be the largest radio observatory in the world. Construction of the SKA began in December 2022, and it is expected to be operational by 2029.

The South African Radio Astronomy Observatory (SARAO) has also awarded over 1,000 scholarships to science and engineering students, training a new generation of astronomers. This has led to the development of key skills needed for working with large data and radio telescopes and has stimulated technological innovation and career opportunities in engineering, astronomy, and physics.

In conclusion, the MeerKAT telescope has had a significant impact on the field of astronomy, not just in Africa, but globally. It has led to the discovery of new galaxies, the training of a new generation of astronomers, and the development of key skills and career opportunities in the field. The telescope’s expansion and eventual integration into the SKA will only further its contributions to the field.

Source link

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *