The first-ever MeerKAT is in the Karoo

Today marks another major milestone in South African science and technology as the first of 64 antennas that will eventually make up  largest and most sensitive radio telescope in the southern hemisphere – MeerKAT –  has been officially launched in the little town of Carnarvon in the Northern Cape by South Africa’s Minister of Science and Technology, Mr Derek Hanekom.

MeerKAT is the second in the trio of radio satellite arrays being constructed in the Karoo, with the much larger, and infinitely more famous Square Kilometre Array (SKA) set to follow when its construction breaks ground in 2018. Each of MeerKat’s antenna towers stand 19.5 m tall and weigh 42 tons, which dwarfs the nearby KAT-7 array that served as an engineering prototype for MeerKAT.

Also christened today was the Karoo Array Processor Building (KAPB), the cutting-edge data centre that handles all of the data processing for MeerKAT, which has been built in an underground bunker at the Karoo observatory site.

When MeerKAT is eventually finished, in 2017, the 64 radio antennas will act as one giant telescope transmitting data along 170 km of underground fibre optic cable, back to the KAPB. The array will be so sensitive that it could pick up a cellphone signal from Saturn, making it better than all of the mobile networks in South Africa combined.

All of the awesome that is MeerKAT will be controlled and monitored remotely from the control room in Cape Town, which will also store and distribute all of the data to the world wide network of scientists that form part of the MeerKAT project.

“Once up and running, the MeerKAT will generate enough data from the antennas to fill about four and a half million standard 4.7 GB DVDs in a day,”

Dr Jasper Horrell, the general manager for science computing and innovation at the SKA.

Once operational MeerKAT will, among other things, be used to test Einstein’s theory of gravity and gravitational radiation as well as researching dark matter and the make-up of our universe in its earliest moments of existence.

There is a bevy of information on the MeerKAT and SKA projects on the SKA South Africa website which we encourage everyone to take a look at.

[Article and Image source: SKA South Africa]


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