SA unveils MeerKAT technology, broadband

2014-03-27 13:13
An impression of what the final design will look like. (Picture provided)

An impression of what the final design will look like. (Picture provided)

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KAT 7 operation

2012-10-15 08:31

MeerKAT project manager Willem Esterhuyse chats about the operation of the KAT 7 in the Northern Cape in this YouTube video.WATCH

Cape Town - Minister of Science and Technology Derek Hanekom on Thursday officially launched the first telescope that will make up the MeerKAT instrument in the Northern Cape province.

The MeerKAT (Karoo Array Telescope) is part of a massive science project underway the town of Carnarvon in the province that seeks to find answers to the early mysteries of the universe.

"The launch of the first MeerKAT antenna signifies South Africa's ardent commitment to the MeerKAT project and the broader SKA project. It further typifies the excellent engineering and technical capabilities in South Africa that have enabled us to deliver a project of this magnitude within projected timeframes and budget allocations," said Hanekom.

The MeerKAT was intended as a pathfinder for the massive SKA or Square Kilometre Array that will be built in both SA and Australia.

However, because the instrument uses the technology of radio interferometry which allows a more accurate picture of the heavens, giving astronomers a clearer view of distant celestial objects.

Underground building

The MeerKAT will consist of 64 linked radio telescopes when it is completed in 2016 and generate massive amounts of data.

"Once up and running, the MeerKAT will generate enough data from the antennas to fill about four and a half million standard 4.7 GB DVDs in a day," said Dr Jasper Horrell, general manager for science computing and innovation at SKA SA.

To accommodate for the management of such amounts of data and the expected exponential increase when the SKA goes online, a Karoo Array Processor Building was also unveiled on Thursday.

The building which is built underground, will receive signals from the telescopes via 170km of cable and controlled from Cape Town.

The Karoo Array Processor Building known as the KAPB, is built 5m underground to ensure that the electronics do not interfere with the radio telescopes which could render the data useless.

The MeerKAT dishes are themselves massive structures, standing over 19m tall and weighing in at 42 tons. The project is South African led, with 75% of the components being developed and built in the country.

Each MeerKAT will generate the equivalent of data on a DVD per second when the instrument is up and running and will be sensitive enough to be able to pick up cellphone signal from Saturn.

Check out this YouTube video of how the KAT-7 radio dishes are controlled from Cape Town:

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