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How the existence of mankind started

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The MeerKAT enable scientists to view radio waves which have been travelling through space since the start of the universe.

NEW LANDSCAPE: The MeerKAT radio telescope is a precursor to the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) telescope and will be integrated into the mid-frequency component of SKA Phase 1. It was launched at Carnarvon, Northern Cape on Friday.Picture: SKA

THE RECENT launch of the completed MeerKAT dishes means that South Africa could become the first country to share with the rest of the world how the existence of mankind started, which will be a world first.

Recently an image of the completed 64 MeerKAT dishes was revealed to the world in Carnavon in the Northern Cape. One of the SKA scientists Fernando Camilo described the image as a scientific discovery. MeerKAT is the precursor to the SKA (Square Kilometre Array) which is expected to be completed by 2020.

Camilo explained that they were “genuinely stunned at some features in the image especially the narrow filaments, which showed a level of fine detail and structure that nobody, even the world’s experts expected. We were also stunned by all the data we got from MeerKAT”.

“We did not expect this, this is why it is a scientific discovery. Now we want to do science and unravel the mysteries of the universe. As a scientist I am hopeful and excited that we will find life on other planets. This will be a world first. Meaning that MeerKAT will now start with science operations. MeerKAT will also address key questions related to galaxy formation and evolution. We had MeerKAT looking at the centre of the milky way. The centre of the universe is tricky to produce images from. But with MeerKAT it produced the clearest view of the centre of the milky way,” he said.

MeerKAT is a radio telescope which monitors radio waves. It will enable scientists to view radio waves which have been travelling through space since the start of the universe.

Camilo added that MeerKAT was designed, and built overwhelmingly by South Africans, over more than a decade.

“It’s a super high technology project, of scientific infrastructure, the likes of which very few nations in the world have managed to achieve. And South Africans have done it. This speaks to the possibilities for the country, in a variety of areas. To me, it speaks of hope,” he said.

Takalane Nemaungani acting chief director of astronomy, said that MeerKAT will also be collecting a lot of data, which will have to be worked through. We will need different kind of people to analyse this data. It will require people with high computing capabilities. They should be able to make science out of it,” he explained.

Dr Happy Sithole from the Centre for High Performance Computing, added that high performance computing would be essential to work through the data collected by MeerKAT.