South Africa has unveiled a new super radio telescope that will study galaxy formation, a first phase of what will be the world’s largest telescope in a project to try to unravel the secrets of the universe.
The 64-dish MeerKAT telescope in the Northern Cape region of South Africa will be integrated into a multinational Square Kilometre Array (SKA).
When fully operational, the SKA telescope will be 50 times more powerful than current telescopes.
“The telescope will be the largest of its own kind in the world with image resolution quality exceeding the Hubble Space Telescope by a factor of 50 times,” David Mabuza, South Africa’s deputy president, said on Friday.
“This day represents some of Africa’s milestones in our quest to catch up with the rest of the world and make our own contributions to civilisation,” he said.
The SKA will comprise a forest of 3,000 dishes spread over an area of a square kilometre across remote terrain in several African countries, as well as Australia, to allow astronomers to peer deeper into space with unparalleled detail.
The SKA, which is expected to be fully operational by 2030, will explore exploding stars, black holes and traces of the universe’s origins some 14 billion years ago.
A panorama captured by the MeerKAT telescope on Friday showed “the clearest view yet” of the black hole at the centre of the Milky Way Galaxy, according to the South African Radio Astronomy Observatory.
The telescope is being built by an international consortium, including Australia, Britain, Canada, China, India, Italy, New Zealand, Sweden and the Netherlands.
Other African countries involved are Botswana, Ghana, Kenya, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia and Zambia.
South Africa has invested 3.2 billion rands ($240m) into the telescope thus far.
Last month, scientists linked a powerful optical telescope, MeerLITCH, built 200km south of Carnarvon, with the MeerKAT to allow for simultaneous optic and radio study of cosmic events as they occur.