South Africa launches world’s largest radio telescope

South Africa on Friday unveiled a 64-dish radio telescope in Carnarvon in the Northern Cape, which is the world's largest radio telescope of its kind.

Launched by South African Deputy President David Mabuza, the telescope, dubbed “MeerKAT,” is a precursor to the first phase of the Square Kilometer Array (SKA) project which aims to reveal the secrets of space. 

The SKA project, expected to be fully operational by late 2030, will include about 3,000 dishes on an area of a square kilometer across remote terrain in several African countries and Australia. 
It will be 50 times more powerful and 10,000 times faster than other telescopes in the world, scanning the sky with higher resolution quality than the Hubble Space telescope, according to the SKA, which will facilitate astronomers to peer deeper into space with unparalleled detail.

"They built a telescope that is the best of its kind in the world. They have made an image of the very center, the core of our Milky Way galaxy, 30,000 light years away. The clearest sharpest image ever made, by anyone on earth," said Fernando Camilo, chief scientist of the SKA Africa project. 

The SKA, with its bulk located South Africa, is an international cooperation with countries participating in the construction including Australia, Britain, Canada, China, India, Italy, New Zealand, Sweden, the Netherlands and other African countries. 

It will explore exploding stars, black holes and traces of the universe's origins some 14 billion years ago.

Besides groundbreaking astronomy research, MeerKAT is also pushing boundaries in big data and high-performance computing with the likes of IBM helping develop systems able to handle the dizzying amount of data fed from each individual antenna to supercomputers buried deep underground to limit radio interference, according to Reuters. 

The first phase of the SKA, which will see another 133 dishes or radio telescopes developed, built and erected in the Northern Cape, and the infrastructure phase of the SKA “should begin I believe, let's say, in about a year to two years’ time," said Takalani Nemaungani, chief director for astronomy in South Africa’s Department of Science and Technology. 

"This is a very significant project that sets the country on a path towards development. It's not South Africa alone that would benefit. All the countries that came together to contribute are going to benefit," said Mabuza. 

(With inputs from AFP and Reuters)

Source - CGTN

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