New, mesmerising drone footage shows just how big SA’s new R4 billion radio telescope is

Business Insider SA

  • New drone footage of South Africa's R4.4 billion 64-dish MeerKAT radio telescope shows the full scope of this remarkable piece of technology. 
  • Located on a remote site in the Northern Cape, the dishes stand at just under 20 metres tall - about three storeys high.
  • The telescope has already captured an image of the massive black hole at the centre of the Milky Way. 

Mesmerising new drone footage shows the full scope of South Africa's R4.4 billion 64-dish MeerKAT radio telescope. 

Located on a remote site in the Northern Cape, the dishes - at just under 20m tall -- about three storeys high and weighs 42 tonnes each.

The longest distance between any two receptors is 8 kilometres. 

These dishes listen to the very faint radio signals coming from far-away stars and galaxies, and then sophisticated electronics transform these signals into data that astronomers can use to decode the universe.

Photo SKA South Africa

The MeerKAT can process up to 275 gigabytes per second.

The telescope was originally known as the Karoo Array Telescope (KAT) that would have consisted of 20 receptors. But, after the South African government increased the budget to 64 receptors, the team re-named it “MeerKAT”, ‘more of KAT’ in Afrikaans, and also conveniently after the much-loved mammal that lives in the Karoo region.

Meerkats. Photo by Don Arnold/Getty Images

Phones, cameras and electronic equipment are forbidden when the telescope is operational on site because these could damage the sensitive electronics on the dishes. 

So far, the MeerKAT has produced the clearest radio image ever taken of the centre of our own galaxy, the Milky Way.

READ: An astounding image of the massive black hole at the centre of our galaxy, courtesy of Africa's new super telescope

The composite captures the central region of the Milky Way, 25,000 light-years away from Earth, an area of approximately 1,000 light-years by 500 light-years.

MeerKAT will form part of the Square Kilometre Array, which will be the largest piece of scientific equipment on Earth and 50 to 100 times more sensitive than any other radio telescope on earth.

But until then, astronomers are excited to see what MeerKAT will be able to do, and are itching to get their hands on more data.

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