10 Aug 2018
South Africa has built one of the world’s most potent telescopes, resulting in the reveal of new details about the Milky Way.
Speaking of images produced by the MeerKAT radio telescope, chief scientist Fernando Camilo described them as the “clearest view ever made of the centre of our galaxy.”
The telescope is made up of 64 satellite dishes that are connected across five miles in an area of low-population in South Africa, so as to ensure signal interference is not an issue.
Each one stands 65 feet tall, and the number and sensitivity of the dishes have enabled scientists to produce exceptional images.
The telescope has been built over 10 years and has cost $330 million, with the intention of being used to study hydrogen activity and pulsars. Camilo described it as being “the best in the world” at what it does.
Farhad Yusef-Zadeh, an astronomy expert at Northwestern University in Illionois, said: “They just did everything right. This image that I saw, it just blew me away. I never thought we would see these details."
The telescope, which launched in July, has made South Africa a key global destination for radio astronomy. It was funded by the South African government and was said to have supported over 7,000 jobs in rural local communities.
The initiative to build the world’s largest radio telescope is still in the works, with it due to be completed in 2030. SKA (Square Kilometre Array) will include up to 3,000 dishes and is designed to the scan the sky 10,000 times faster than any other telescope.