The images, taken by MeerKAT telescope, are an indication of the detail the southern hemisphere’s most powerful radio telescope may be able to provide when it is fully operational later this year.
At present, 16 of MeerKAT’s 64 dishes are scanning the skies. As well as its scientific goals, the project serves as a technological demonstration of South Africa’s capability to host the Square Kilometer Array, a huge multiradio-telescope project to be built in Australia and South Africa comprising dozens of dishes.
“Based on the results being shown today, we are confident that after all 64 dishes are in place, MeerKAT will be the world’s leading telescope of its kind until the advent of SKA,” Professor Justin Jonas, SKA South Africa chief technologist, said in a statement.
Square Kilometer Array
The SKA, intended to be operational by the 2020s, will consist of around 3,000 dishes spread across a one square kilometer (0.4 square mile) area and will allow astronomers to peer deeper into space than ever before.
SKA says it will have a discovery potential 10,000 times that of the most advanced modern instruments and will explore black holes, supernovae, dark energy and look into the origins of the universe.
More than 20 countries are members of SKA, with Australia and South Africa being the main bases of operation. The project is headquartered in the UK.
‘Exceptionally beautiful images’
MeerKAT’s images, taken of a patch of sky covering less than 0.01% of the total, reveal more than 1,300 galaxies in the distant universe, where only around 70 had been previously detected.
They include a galaxy around 200 million light years away where new stars are being formed from hydrogen gas in large numbers, and a massive black hole spewing out jets of powerful electrons moving at close to the speed of light.
“Today’s exceptionally beautiful images … demonstrate that MeerKAT has joined the big leagues of world radio astronomy,” said Fernando Camilo, SKA South Africa chief scientist.