South Africa’s MeerKAT radio telescope released its first image on Saturday, proving that it is the best radio telescope in the Southern Hemisphere. The image reveals 1,300 galaxies, covering about 0.01 percent of the entire celestial sphere.

Apparently, the radio telescope located in South Africa’s Karoo region is not yet finished and only used 16 dishes during the observation. The full 64 receptors will be placed in late 2017, integrating it into the Square Kilometer Array (SKA), which SKA South Africa Chief Technologist Justin Jonas says will be the most powerful telescope in the world. Each receptor will contain a 13.5 meter-diameter dish antenna, receivers, cryogenic coolers, digitizer and other tools.

More than 200 scientists, technicians and engineers from South Africa collaborated with scientists from other countries to build MeerKAT. MeerKAT is one of the two main clusters of SKA. The other one is being built in Australia. Both will observe the universe but at different radio frequencies.


The two panels to the right show distant galaxies with massive black holes at their centers. At lower left is a galaxy approximately 200 million light years away, where hydrogen gas is being used up to form stars in large numbers. Credit: Square Kilometre Array

By the 2020s, the SKA will consist of 3,000 dishes that will cover an area measuring at least a square kilometer or 0.4 square miles. Scientists believe that the telescope array will have  10,000 times greater discovery potential than the most high-tech instruments we  have right now. It will also help reveal the mystery behind supernovae (also known as exploding stars), black holes, dark energy and possibly fragments that can demonstrate how the universe formed 14 billion years ago.

“South Africa has already demonstrated its excellent science and engineering skills by designing and building MeerKAT,” points out South African Minister of Science and Technology Naledi Pandor. “This telescope, which is predominantly a locally designed and built instrument, shows the world that South Africa can compete in international research, engineering, technology and science. The government is proud of our scientists and engineers for pioneering a radio telescope that will lead to groundbreaking research.”