MeerKAT is South Africa’s precursor to the SKA, built as a 64-element radio interferometer that observe radio waves spanning the wavelength range 18 – 50 cm. It consists of 64 electronically-linked antennas, each 13.5 metres in diameter, spread over an area of more than 8 km. The large majority of the dishes are located within a 1 km core. This ensure the instrument is sensitive to spatially extended emission (e.g., in the outskirts of galaxies). The longer antenna baselines (up to 8 km) ensure that images are yielded with very high spatial resolution, which allows astronomers to study physical processes on small physical length scales (e.g., star formation in dense gas clouds). MeerKAT was designed to be exquisitely sensitive to faint emission from distant systems. Using MeerKAT, astronomers will begin to routinely probe the properties of the gas contained in galaxies beyond the local Universe.
MeerKAT has been built near the Northern Cape Town of Carnarvon. The instrument was inaugurated in 2018, and is now routinely generating high-quality spectroscopic imaging of nearby and distant astrophysical systems – from galaxies to pulsars.
Eventually, the 64 MeerKAT dishes will be incorporated into phase 1 of the SKA, which will consist of approximately 250 MeerKAT-like dishes.
See https://www.ska.ac.za/ for more information about MeerKAT at its associated activities.