Launched just days before the 100th birthday of former
President Nelson Mandela, the MeerKAT radio telescope has brought much more than big science and astronomical research to the Karoo.
Located just an hour’s drive from Carnarvon in the Northern Cape, the MeerKAT has increased economic activity in Carnarvon and surrounding towns through jobs, skills
and education as well as business opportunities for local contractors since the first MeerKAT dish was installed in 2014.
Deputy President David Mabuza said at the launch that localisation derived a huge benefit for the project,
with 75 percent of the components that went into the construction of the 64 dishes being sourced locally.
“During construction, more than R134 million was spent on local suppliers, and 351 people were trained by major Square Kilometre Array (SKA) contractors.
In addition, more than R110 million was awarded to 16 small and medium enterprises through a financial assistance programme.
“This has empowered local industry and institutions to acquire skills and expertise in advanced technologies, and to grow their international competitiveness.
“There is no doubt that the launch of the MeerKAT further strengthens
the prospects of a larger role for South Africa in the construction of the SKA,
and promises numerous benefits for the country and the region as a whole,” he said.
The MeerKAT, which has been billed as the most sensitive radio telescope in the world, is a precursor to the SKA telescope, which – upon its completion – will be the biggest radio telescope in the world.
A giant leap Ahead of the Deputy President’s address, Dr Fernando Camilo, the Chief Scientist of the South African Radio Astronomy Observatory (SARAO),
unveiled the clearest view yet of the centre of the Milky Way as observed by the MeerKAT, saying the completion of the MeerKAT was a giant leap in science.
“The centre of the Milky Way, 25 000 light-years away from Earth and lying behind the constellation Sagittarius (the “Teapot”),
is forever enshrouded by intervening clouds of gas and dust, making it invisible from Earth using ordinary telescopes.
However, infra-red, xray and, in particular, radio wavelengths penetrate the obscuring dust and open a window into this distinctive region with its unique four million solar mass black hole
“Although it’s early days with MeerKAT, and a lot remains to be optimised, we decided to go for it – and were stunned by the results,” he explained.
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