MeerKAT site now beaming with newly installed satellite dishes

The MeerKAT will allow astronomers to study the formation of the first galaxies, magnetic relations between planets as well as details around the large-scale structure of the cosmos.

The Square Kilometre Array is a large multi-radio telescope hosted by Australia and South Africa. On Friday 64 operational radio telescopes will be launched at the SKA site outside Carnarvon. Picture: Bertram Malgas/EWN

CARNARVON – Sixty-four satellite dishes at the MeerKAT site in the Northern Cape are beaming with pride.

The precursor to the Square Kilometre Array in the Karoo will officially be launched on Friday.

The MeerKAT will allow astronomers to study the formation of the first galaxies, magnetic relations between planets as well as details around the large-scale structure of the cosmos.

As part of the first phase of the SKA project, 64 white satellite dishes are now dotted across the Karoo skyline, a sharp contrast to the arid Carnarvon surroundings.

The Square Kilometre Array is a large multi-radio telescope is a project hosted by Australia and South Africa. Sixty-four operational radio telescopes have been launched at the SKA site outside Carnarvon on 14 July 2018. Picture: Kevin Brandt/EWN

Construction at the facility, about 90 kilometres outside the Northern Cape town, began in 2012.

The district's high altitude, low light and atmospheric pollution, makes it the perfect location to host the SKA.

Kareeberg Local Municipality Mayor, Norman van Wyk, says the project has had a huge socio-economic impact on the town.

“R136 million has been spent on local service providers and contractors for the construction of MeerKAT and related projects ... 72 students studying at technical colleges for further education and training.”

Science and Technology Minister Mmamoloko Khubayi-Ngubane announced earlier this year that R2.2 billion will be spent on expanding the project.

Senior government officials, including Deputy President David Mabuza and Khubayi-Ngubane, will officially launch 64 radio satellite dishes as a precursor to the MeerKAT's phase one project.

SKA chief scientist Dr Fernando Camilo said: “Time and time again history shows that when you build a really good telescope when you look at it 10 years later or 20 years later ... people will see what we’ve built and that it is doing what it was built to do. And some of those are, in fact, are the most exciting sometimes.”

(Edited by Leeto M Khoza)