An array of telescopes in South Africa is set to be part of the world's most powerful astronomy tool. South Africa's MeerKAT has already revealed 1,300 galaxies in a tiny patch of sky where only 70 were known previously.
TheThe partially built radio telescope array in South Africa's arid Karoo region comprises just 16 dishes gazing up to the stars, with three times that number still to be constructed.
But even at a quarter capacity, MeerKAT showed its power has revealed 1,300 galaxies in an area of sky where only 70 were known to exist before. The completed array, to be known as the "Square Kilometer Array" (SKA) will consist of 64 receptors, each with a 13.5 meter (44 feet) diameter dish antenna and receivers trained on the sky.
Researchers will use the array to look at exploding stars, black holes, dark energy and traces of the universe's origins some 14 billion years ago. It's even hoped that the SKA might yield clues about the origins of life.
"We are confident that after all 64 dishes are in place, MeerKAT will be the world's leading telescope of its kind," said Professor Justin Jonas, SKA South Africa chief technologist.
'A first for Africa'
The array is being built in phases and will not be complete until the 2020s, with scientists planning to build a forest of receivers across several countries in a one-square-kilometer (0.4-square-mile) blocks. The Karoo array will be one of two main clusters, the other one being in Australia.
More than 20 countries are involved in setting up the SKA project, and some 500 scientific groups from 45 countries have booked slots to use the equipment.
South African Minister of Science and Technology Naledi Pandor told the Agence France-Presse news agency "this the first time that an African group of countries will host global science infrastructure of this character."
"It's a first for us as Africa and also it's a first for the world because the world hasn't done this in Africa. We are building a global infrastructure for the world."
rc/jlw (Reuters, AFP, AP, dpa)