Astronomers from around the world were queuing up to use SA’s MeerKAT radio telescope, the project team said on Thursday.
Even though MeerKAT was still five years from being operational, more than 43 000 hours of observing time had already been allocated. And it could be used to search for intelligent life elsewhere in the universe.
MeerKAT is to be built in the radio astronomy reserve near Carnarvon in the Northern Cape over the next five years. Consisting of 64 dishes, each 13,5m in diameter, it is the precursor to what SA hopes will be a full Square Kilometre Array (SKA) telescope. An “engineering test bed” of seven dishes is already complete.
The team said in a statement that following an October 2009 invitation to the world’s radio astronomers to apply for telescope time, 21 proposals, involving more than 500 astronomers from around the world, were received.
“Surveys of radio pulsars and hydrogen gas in the deep universe came out on top in the first round of allocating MeerKAT’s observing time,” the team said.
“Nearly 8 000 hours of observing time were allocated to a proposal to test Einstein’s theory of gravity and investigate the physics of enigmatic neutron stars.”
Five thousand hours were dedicated to two proposals to survey the distant universe.
“We would also like to explore the potential for Seti (search for extraterrestrial intelligence) and for collaboration with Nasa on downloading information from their space probes sent to other planets,” said director of the SKA SA project, Bernie Fanaroff. — Sapa