Something hugely important is happening in a vast, quiet stretch of South Africa’s Northern Cape province. A new radio telescope operating at just a quarter of its full power is revealing the universe’s secrets one image at a time.
MeerKAT will ultimately become part of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) telescope. Once it’s completed some time in the decade following 2020, the SKA will be the world’s largest radio telescope. The project is shared between South Africa and Australia. It’s not just its size that sets it apart from other radio telescopes but also sensitivity and speed. At full power, the SKA will have 50 times the sensitivity and 10,000 times the survey speed of the best existing telescopes.
It will see more, and see it faster. It can explore the universe and answer some of humanity’s biggest scientific questions – like, “Is there life out there?” and “How are galaxies formed?”
All of this lies some time in the future. But already, MeerKAT is yielding remarkable results.