CUTTING EDGE: The KAT-7 radio telescope gazed 4.3 million years back in time. Picture: GALLO IMAGES
South Africa’s ability to deliver cutting-edge technology and do excellent science has again been proven with a major milestone for the KAT-7 (Karoo Array Telescope) radio telescope outside Carnarvon.
The telescope, a precursor to the much larger MeerKAT, so called because of the abundance of these animals in the vicinity, and ultimately the massive Square Kilometre Array (SKA), successfully logged images of radio emission from the neutral hydrogen gas (HI) in a small galaxy about 4.3 million light years from earth this month.
Making its observations and recordings of even more note is that the galaxy, called NGC 3109 in the Constellation of Hydra, was discovered by English scientist John Herschel on March 24, 1935, while he was doing astronomical research in South Africa.
The observation and successful retrieval of atomic hydrogen spectral line images from a nearby galaxy have been hailed by Dr Bernie Fanaroff, director of SKA SA.
“The exciting results achieved by KAT-7 have given us confidence that we know how to build a cutting-edge radio telescope in Africa to answer some of the fundamental questions in radio astronomy.
A large proportion of the science planned for SKA and MeerKAT involves mapping the universe using neutral hydrogen.”
KAT-7 and MeerKAT are precursors to the SKA, which South Africa has officially bid to host along with a number of other African countries. The only other bid is a joint one by Australia and New Zealand. An announcement of the successful bid is expected next month.