The groundbreaking MeerKAT radio telescope is poised to go live in April next year.
MeerKAT will form part of the megascience project, the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) radio telescope, that is being built in South Africa and Australia and which will have a total collecting area of approximately one square kilometre.
The advanced radio telescope will be able to detect radio waves from objects millions, or even billions, of light years away.
It has been hailed as a breakthrough science project in the southern hemisphere.
Situated near the small town of Carnarvon in the Northern Cape, the physical installation of the 64-dish Meerkat programme was completed on October 18, and around
50 of the dish-shaped antennae have already been integrated. Technical teams are currently working to get the full
system functional by April 1 next year.
Addressing the community of Carnavon at the weekend, Minister of Science and Technology Naledi Pandor said this project would
show the world that “Africa will do science and be excellent in it”.
SKA project director Rob Adam said: “I am happy we accomplished our goal and sad because it’s been a wonderful process watching these engineers getting the project complete.
“The fastest computer on the African continent was also installed on the MeerKAT site and it is 50% faster than any computer currently in the country. (It is) a dedicated computer to process the data coming off MeerKAT.”
SKA operations head Lindsay Magnus said the telescope would function as a digital camera, using the collection of dishes to create pictures of the universe through digital signal processing.
“This scientific project will help us answer many unanswered scientific questions,” Magnus said.
“It is cutting-edge technology that will allow us to do research in our country as well as attracting the international scientific community to do their research here.
“It will help us have a better understanding of how the universe works - the more knowledge we have, the better it is for the advancement of humankind,” Magnus added.
The project’s ability to enthuse people and get them talking about science made it special.
“We will explore the evolution of a galaxies (and) monitor patches of sky over thousands of hours,” said Magnus.
“They say the universe is 13 billion years old. How do we know?”
He added: “We are currently testing theories that have already been answered
by the international science community to see if we come up with the same answers, to test whether our system works.”
Communication radiotrician Boitumelo Pholoholo said he was proud to be a part of the project. His job is in communication electronics, assisting in the system integration and fault-finding, to make sure the system functions optimally by its completion date.
“This is a high-class project and our objective is to be the best observatory to date,” he said. “We are working hard to get the telescope optimal and operational.”