MeerLICHT - which means “more light” in Dutch - is an optical telescope that will simultaneously scan the southern skies with MeerKAT.
In a world first, it will create a combination where astronomers can always study stars and galaxies in two parts of the spectrum at the same time.
Scientist have described the project as the “eyes and ears” of the sky, with MeerLICHT being the eyes and MeerKAT being the ears.
The project has seen the global scientific community coming together to explore the sky in a new way as South Africa, the Netherlands, and the UK collaborate to study the universe with MeerLICHT and MeerKAT.
The MeerLICHT cost about R40million to build and saw all the parties contribute equally to make it a reality.
“The study of exploding stars across the universe will gain a whole new dimension,” said University of Cape Town (UCT) Professor Patrick Woudt, co-principal investigator of the MeerLICHT telescope.
Radboud University Professor Paul Groot, also a co-principal investigator, added: “I am fascinated by all these explosions in the universe.
“This project is just a new way of looking at the universe with these two channels at the same time, basically as our eyes and ears; we (MeerLICHT) are the eyes.
“MeerKAT is the ears You get a better picture if you do that. If you have both, you have a much better understanding,” Groot said. When the MeerKAT plans were developed, he and Woudt thought it would be a good idea to join an optical telescope with a radio.
What started as an idea, then got the two putting the gears in motion to get the MeerLICHT built.
It took six years to complete and launch the project. MeerLICHT will also work with Southern Africa’s Largest Telescope (SALT).
“MeerLICHT has a wide field view of the sky, and sees millions of stars. We’re after the few that show flare-ups.
“When we identify which star it is, then we can have a close-up view with SALT. SALT has a smaller field view, but much bigger mirrors.
“It gets more light into a detector, so we can send a signal to SALT at this exact position in the sky that something is happening.
“MeerLICHT detects and with SALT we study in depth,” Groot said.
Oxford University Professor Rob Fender, also a co-principal investigator of the telescope, was excited about the inauguration and commencing of the telescope’s operations.
“This is the beginning of a new phase of co-ordinated multi-wavelength research into the most extreme astrophysical events,” said Fender.
Apart from being a stand-alone project, combining with MeerKAT, the MeerLICHT project is also a prototype for project Black Gem.
Groot explained the idea was that they have 15 telescopes located in Chile, South Africa and New Zealand to monitor the southern sky 24/7.