A new radio telescope MeerKAT, built and operated by the South African Radio Astronomy Observatory, has reportedly captured a stunning image of the Milky Way’s center.
The picture in question shows a region surrounding the supermassive black hole that lies at the heart of the Milky Way, around 25,000 light-years away from Earth. The 64-dish MeerKAT radio telescope was inaugurated in Carnarvon, South Africa, on Friday, July 13.
The typical telescopes are not able to observe the center of the Milky Way as they cannot peer through the thick clouds of dust and gas. But, MeerKAT’s radio wavelengths can penetrate the dust layers and glance into this distinctive region and its black hole to map the normally invisible portions of space in exceptionally high detail. The radio telescope has a high number of antennas that makes it more sensitive than comparable telescopes, enabling it to provide never-seen-before views of the universe.
“We wanted to show the science capabilities of this new instrument,” said Fernando Camilo, chief scientist at the South African Radio Astronomy Observatory. “The center of the galaxy was an obvious target: unique, visually striking and full of unexplained phenomena, but also notoriously hard to image using radio telescopes. Although it’s early days with MeerKAT, and a lot remains to be optimized, we decided to go for it – and were stunned by the results.”
MeerKaAT consists of 64 dishes each of which measures 13.5 m (44.3 ft) in diameter. The dishes are spaced up to 8 km apart and are spread across the Karoo region of South Africa.
The radio telescope’s 64 dishes will eventually be made a part of the world’s largest and most powerful radio telescope, the Square Kilometre Array. The project will eventually form the largest telescope in the world with facilities in Africa and Australia. The Square Kilometre Array instrument will likely become fully operational in the late 2020s.