First MeerKAT dish to be unveiled soon

2014-03-18 12:30
A model of the revised MeerKAT dish which is closely aligned to the SKA requirements is seen at the project office in Cape Town. (Duncan Alfreds, News24, file)

A model of the revised MeerKAT dish which is closely aligned to the SKA requirements is seen at the project office in Cape Town. (Duncan Alfreds, News24, file)

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Cape Town - South Africa is pushing ahead with the country's most ambitious science project as the first MeerKAT instrument is unveiled.

The first of the MeerKAT radio antennas will be unveiled on 27 March in a ceremony at the SKA core site in Carnarvon in the Northern Cape province.

The MeerKAT or Karoo Array Telescope, will consist of 64 linked radio telescopes and will be the most sensitive radio telescope in the Southern Hemisphere when it goes online in 2016.

The instrument was initially intended to be a pathfinder instrument for the SKA (Square Kilometre Array) which will consist of more than 3 000 radio telescopes and be built in both SA and Australia.

However, at least 500 astronomers have already been granted time on the MeerKAT to study the cosmos and the project team is rushing to ensure that the instrument is delivered on time and to budget.

Specific needs

"There are ongoing issues: Justin [Jonas] for instance is responsible for making sure that the dishes are delivered to quality, to performance, to schedule; to cost," Dr Bernie Fanaroff, director of SKA South Africa told News24 about the role of Professor Jonas in the local organisation.

"And you have to keep pressure on the contractors," he added.

Jonas said that he has had to keep a close eye on the contractors in the construction phase to ensure that the specific needs of the instrument would be met.

"Our requirements for radio astronomy are very different from what they are used to in the normal jobs that they do," he said.

The site of the radio telescope is protected by law under the Astronomy Geographic Advantage Act which prohibits any interference with radio astronomy at the location.

The construction of the telescopes must also be exact in order to give accurate data and the instruments must be able to withstand 144km/h winds.

Industrial scale production

It is expected that once the first MeerKAT dishes are delivered, the industrial scale production of the entire instrument will begin and the design of the antennas took its cue from the SKA, to ensure compatibility.

Jonas said that he had confidence in the companies constructing the MeerKAT.

"Yes, I'm confident, but that doesn't mean I'm not going to keep watching them."

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