South Africa 13.7.2018 09:30 am

Northern Cape MeerKAT telescope to cost R4.4bn

Picture: SKA website.

Picture: SKA website.

It may not be cheap, but MeerKAT, the largest telescope in the Southern Hemisphere, will allow astronomers to gain new insight into our universe.

Friday sees South Africa launch what will be the largest and most sensitive radio telescope in the Southern Hemisphere.

Deputy President David Mabuza will cut the ribbon and introduce the telescope, based in the Northern Cape town of Carnarvon and named MeerKAT, to our country and the world.

Seen as a significant milestone in radio astronomy, MeerKAT has 64 dishes spread across eight kilometres.

It may not be cheap, but it will allow astronomers to gain new insight into our universe.

Fernando Camilo, chief scientist of the South African Radio Astronomy Observatory, says, among the research conducted, they will be probing the history of the universe through the study of hydrogen, determining how galaxies come to form stars, and will be searching for the elusive and enigmatic dark matter, a substance that despite being invisible is thought by scientists to make up more of the universe than visible matter.

MeerKAT may be the biggest in the Southern Hemisphere for now, but it is set to become integrated into the larger Square Kilometre Array (SKA) telescope that is currently in construction.

While the project is an international one, and has various countries joining forces, those at the helm are conscious of trying to ensure the Northern Cape benefits from the presence of the massive telescope.

As well as using South African companies, from those that provide high-tech equipment to construction companies, the project will also include skills training and development programmes for South Africans.

The project did see some 130 000 hectares of land bought from farmers and the community in the province.

While this may lead to a loss of economic activity, SKA says it is building a feedlot to assist farmers, minimise harm and compensate for the loss of jobs.

It is hoped that while enabling scientists to make important discoveries about the universe, the project will also bring new scientific opportunities to Africa.

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