Looking back in time with MeerKAT

2011-04-06 14:40
Astronomers hope to study the early universe with the MeerKAT. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

Astronomers hope to study the early universe with the MeerKAT. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

kalahari.com

Cape Town - One of the first primary investigators is looking forward to getting first crack at working on the MeerKAT (Karoo Array Telescope) once it's commissioned.

"The SKA [Square Kilometre Array] would be excellent, but MeerKAT would be brilliant in itself. It would be the most sensitive radio interferometer in the southern hemisphere," astronomer Dr Sarah Blyth told News24.

Blythe will, with Dr Andrew Baker of Rutgers University and Dr Benne Holwerda of the European Space Agency, lead a team of 56 to study the prevalence of neutral Hydrogen in the universe. Their research hopes to explain the decline in star formation in galaxies.

"We want to go back to about half the age of the universe - about six to eight billion years - and we'll be able to measure the gas from the most distant galaxies."

The MeerKAT was originally proposed as a test-bed for South Africa's bid to host the SKA, but researchers soon noted that it would be an effective instrument in itself.

Cosmology models

It will consist of 64 linked radio telescopes near Carnarvon in the Northern Cape province. Currently, seven telescopes have been built as engineers refine the design and technology to drive the industrial roll-out of the instrument.

Science and technology minister Naledi Pandor has referred to it as "our grand challenge" and the area has been designated a radio reserve by the Astronomy Geographic Advantage Act of 2007 which prohibits any activity that may impact on the quality of the observatory.

Blythe and the team are planning to look further back in time than the current record of three billion years to refine cosmology models and compliment existing science.

"We want to measure the neutral hydrogen in galaxies at high redshift, because stars are made of hydrogen. We have more elliptical galaxies today than in the past, and it's linked to how much gas there is in the galaxies.

"Earlier in the universe, the star formation rate was much higher," Blyth said.

On Earth, hydrogen is usually found in molecular form, but in space, it is found both in this form and as single atoms. This atomic form of hydrogen emits the radio waves they hope to measure with the MeerKAT, Blyth explained.

Her study, though, will require lots of time because the galaxies are so far away.

Data

"We'll stare at one patch of sky for about 4 000 hours. It's called the Extended Chandra Deep Field-South and there are two parts to the survey.

We'll observe some galaxies and compare that to all the other data we have, and on the other side, there'll be galaxies we don't see, but know are there. We'll take all those galaxies and put their signal together and get an average amount of Hydrogen in galaxies," Blyth said.

The Extended Chandra Deep Field-South is a patch of sky about the size of the quarter moon when observed from earth.

Blythe had some concerns about how the massive amount of data would be processed, but added that she was certain the engineers have planned for the maintenance of data management tools.

"The amount of data flowing through the SKA will be 250 times the total information flowing through the internet today. It will push the boundaries of computing and on the storage of data. The SKA will collect more data in a week than human kind has collected in its entire history," said SA SKA project director Dr Bernie Fanaroff.

The MeerKAT is slated to be ready by 2016, and Blythe said the most surprising thing in the survey would be to discover something that contravenes current thinking about Hydrogen in the universe.

"If we measure no difference going back in time, that would be weird."


- Follow Duncan on Twitter
 
- News24
Read more on:    naledi pandor  |  astronomy  |  ska
NEXT ON NEWS24X
SHARE:

Read News24’s Comments Policy

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
8 comments
Add your comment
Comment 0 characters remaining
 

Inside News24

 
/Travel

Jobs in Cape Town [change area]

Property [change area]

Travel - Look, Book, Go!

Magical Massinga

Spend 5 nights at the gorgeous Massinga Beach Lodge in Mozambique and only pay for 4 from R13 220 per person sharing. Includes return flights, accommodation, transfers and romantic turndown. Book now!

Kalahari.com - shop online today

Up to 40% off fashion accessories

Save up to 40% on selected handbags, purses, watches, jewellery and more. Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now!

Save up to R2000 on top electronics

Get every day mind bowing savings on top electronics. Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now!

As seen on TV - New book releases at only R199 each

Get mind blowing book savings on new titles. Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now!

Save up to 50% on Women’s month treats!

Celebrate the awesome women in your life with awesome treats like beauty products, fashion accessories, bestselling books, electronics and more. Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now!

Up to 60% off - clearance sale!

Save up to 60% on appliances, books, electronics, toys, movies and more. Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now!

OLX Free Classifieds [change area]

Samsung Galaxy s4

Mobile, Cell Phones in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 24

Best bargain in big bay

Real Estate, Houses - Apartments for Sale in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

VW Golf 6, 1.6 Trendline (Excellent condition)

Vehicles, Cars in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

Horoscopes
Aquarius
Aquarius

Today is a good day to network and share your ideas and thoughts with your colleagues and friends. Information overload is...read more

There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.
 
English
Afrikaans
isiZulu

Hello 

Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.


Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.

Settings

Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.








Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.