The world’s most powerful radio telescope, the Square Kilometer Array (SKA), will stretch from South Africa to Australia, connect some 3,000 dishes, cover 0.4 square miles of surface area, and let astronomers look further into space — with better precision — than ever before.
But scientists and space buffs have to wait until around 2024 for the multinational project to get fully up and running. In the meantime, a handful of those receptors in the desolate and dry Karoo region of South Africa have just returned a magnificent image of deep space that the chief scientist of the SKA in South Africa, Fernando Camilo, has called “far better than we could have expected,” according to the AFP news agency (via the Guardian).
The image, taken by a South African cluster of telescopes dubbed MeerKAT, reveals 1,300 galaxies — just 70 were previously known to exist. Massive black holes distort light and gravity at the center of some of these galaxies. Hydrogen gas is compressed into massive quantities of stars within others. Overall, the image showcases the strength of the MeerKAT telescope at its current stage while exemplifying the eventual power of the SKA. “[This] means that this telescope as [it] is today, only one quarter of the way down (to its full contingent) is already the best radio telescope in the southern hemisphere,” Camilo told AFP.
MeerKAT’s “First Light” image shows a region of sky that comprises just 0.01 percent of the celestial sphere, and was captured before all of the cluster’s telescope dishes are installed. “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 an SKA press release.
Once completed, the SKA will have 10,000 times the discovery potential of today’s most advanced radio telescopes.