A top Italian national institute of Astrophysics is the latest international company to join the MeerKAT+ project. South African Radio Astronomy Observatory (SARAO) and the Max-Planck-Gesellschaft officially welcomed the Italian Istituto Nazionale di Astrofisica (INAF) as part of the global radio telescope initiative. The development is widely welcome within the astronomy community as it will provide the necessary boost to the initiative.
MeerKAT is a 64-dish system and it is the precursor to the intergovernmental mega radio telescope project called Square Kilometre Array based in the Nothern Cape.
SARAO is the national flagship facility of the National Research Foundation while the Max Planck Gesellschaft (MPG) is a non-profit organisation with 86 research institutes and facilities. Among these is the Max-Planck-Institut für Radioastronomie (MPIfR), which is one of the major participants in the SKA parabolic engineering consortium.
Together with German industrial partners such as telescopic antenna specialists MT Mechatronics (MTM) and international partners, the Dish consortium is responsible for the design of the SKA’s medium frequency array (SKA-Mid).
“INAF and the Italian community are eager to contribute to the MeerKAT+ scientific programme and to participate in the technological advancement linked to its development,” said president of INAF, Marco Tavani. MeerKAT+ is an important step, added Tavani, towards the SKA Telescope which will open large ‘unexplored windows’ of our universe.
The MeerKAT+ extension founded by SARAO and MPG will increase both, sensitivity and spatial resolution of the existing MeerKAT telescope array and thus provide a powerful instrument to study the formation and evolution of galaxies throughout the history of the universe.
The project will also see 20 new dishes being added to the existing array of 64 dishes, a joint project initiated and funded by SARAO and the MPG. For its part, INAF will provide an additional financial investment of €6-million to the MeerKAT project. As a result, MeerKAT+ will not only see improved scientific capability, but will also benefit through the scientific participation of INAF.
At the moment the MeerKAT project has 64 dishes, and with this partnership the number will rise to 84. Importantly, the extension will result in the maximum distance between the dishes increasing from 8km to 17km, a move that will increase both MeerKAT’s sensitivity and its ability to capture higher definition radio images. The telescope’s computing requirements will also increase tenfold following these improvements.
Experts say the MeerKAT+ would be an even more powerful telescope to study the formation and evolution of galaxies throughout the history of the universe. They say the extended MeerKAT will increase the raw sensitivity of the instruments by about 50%, a move that will enable the telescope to survey the sky faster, and also enable it to detect even faintest astronomical sources. Eventually, the MeerKAT+ will be integrated into SKA1-Mid, the first phase of the SKA telescope, which will be an array of 197 dishes.
The MeerKAT+ project was initiated in 2019, and proceeded with thorough scientific evaluation and technical planning. Major tendering for MeerKAT+ is on its way, and first installation activities on site are scheduled for the middle of 2021. Integration and science commissioning of MeerKAT+ is expected to commence in 2023.