MeerKAT produces its first remarkable image

More than 100 researchers and students from South Africa and around the world are meeting this week to share plans to use the MeerKAT radio telescope. The MeerKAT Science Workshop will be held at the Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Study facility on 25-27 May 2016.

As the conference takes place in Stellenbosch, construction of the telescope continues apace in the Karoo (IMAGE 1), while commissioning scientists and engineers at the SKA South Africa office in Cape Town run tests with the first elements of the dish array. This week, an observation using just 4 of the eventual 64 dishes has produced a remarkable view of the sky, revealing never before seen radio galaxies in the distant universe (IMAGES 2 and 3).

“This wonderful result has enormous significance,” said Prof Justin Jonas, Associate Director for Science and Engineering, SKA South Africa. “Just 10 years ago I would not have imagined that we would be hosting such a prestigious meeting in South Africa and building a world-leading radio telescope. This image and all that lies behind it adds to our confidence that this very complex project will be the success that we have been planning for over the past decade.”

“This image covers less than 0.01 percent of the entire celestial sphere”, explains Dr Fernando Camilo, SKA South Africa Chief Scientist. “Given that we detect more than 50 galaxies in such a small patch of sky, observed with only 4 dishes, imagine the discoveries that are going to be made surveying the entire South African sky with the full 64-dish MeerKAT!”

The core of the MeerKAT radio telescope array under construction, showing 19 of the 13.5-metre diameter dishes on 20 April 2016.
The core of the MeerKAT radio telescope array under construction, showing 19 of the 13.5-metre diameter dishes on 20 April 2016.

The scientific promise of MeerKAT is reflected in the worldwide interest in the MeerKAT Science Workshop. “This promise is now within reach,” according to Dr Rob Adam, SKA South Africa Project Director. “It is a testament to the dedicated work of hundreds of engineers, scientists, managers and other staff, as well as of the South African and international industrial partners, and the support of the government and people of South Africa for more than a decade.”

MeerKAT, a project of Square Kilometre Array South Africa (SKA SA), which is overseen by the Department of Science and Technology (DST), will be made up of 64 dishes spread over a diameter of 8 kilometres in the Northern Cape, 90 kilometres northwest of Carnarvon. When completed by late next year, it will be one of the world’s most powerful scientific instruments. Eventually MeerKAT will be integrated into the even more powerful SKA telescope.

Image from test observation done with 4 MeerKAT dishes on 14 May 2016. More than 50 radio sources (white dots) are visible in this 1 square degree panorama (corresponding to 5 times the area of the Moon). Unlike an ordinary picture of the sky that mainly shows stars in our own Milky Way Galaxy, these dots arise from galaxies in the distant universe emitting radio waves at a frequency of 1400 MHz (15 times the frequency of FM radio stations).
Image from test observation done with 4 MeerKAT dishes on 14 May 2016. More than 50 radio sources (white dots) are visible in this 1 square degree panorama (corresponding to 5 times the area of the Moon). Unlike an ordinary picture of the sky that mainly shows stars in our own Milky Way Galaxy, these dots arise from galaxies in the distant universe emitting radio waves at a frequency of 1400 MHz (15 times the frequency of FM radio stations).
Image above overlaid with yellow ellipses indicating radio sources detected in a similar observation done with KAT-7 (a 7-dish precursor to MeerKAT, also located in the Karoo); and green ellipses showing radio sources detected in the Australian SUMMS survey of the Southern sky. Some of the yellow ellipses are resolved into two green counterparts, showing that the 4-dish test observation produces sharper images than possible with KAT-7. Some of the white dots do not have a green or yellow counterpart, indicating that this commissioning image obtained with 4 MeerKAT dishes has already detected previously unknown radio galaxies.
Image above overlaid with yellow ellipses indicating radio sources detected in a similar observation done with KAT-7 (a 7-dish precursor to MeerKAT, also located in the Karoo); and green ellipses showing radio sources detected in the Australian SUMMS survey of the Southern sky. Some of the yellow ellipses are resolved into two green counterparts, showing that the 4-dish test observation produces sharper images than possible with KAT-7. Some of the white dots do not have a green or yellow counterpart, indicating that this commissioning image obtained with 4 MeerKAT dishes has already detected previously unknown radio galaxies.

Source: http://ska.ac.za/releases/20160524.php

An MSc Student at UWC studying the effects of environment on radio galaxy emission.