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article imageSouth Africa's MeerKAT radio telescope already highly in demand

By Lee Labuschagne     Oct 22, 2010 in Science
Johannesburg - A full five years before South Africa’s MeerKAT telescope becomes operational, more than 43 000 hours of observing time (about five years) have already been allocated to radio astronomers from Africa and around the world.
A statement by the SKA team says surveys of radio pulsars and hydrogen gas in the deep universe came out on top in the first round of allocating observing time on MeerKAT to research astronomers.
MeerKAT's innovative design will consist of 64 Gregorian offset dishes, each 13.5 m in diameter. It is South Africa’s precursor telescope to the SKA (Square Kilometre Array): South Africa and Australia have been shortlisted to host the prestigious SKA.
A MeerKAT test bed of seven dishes (KAT-7) is already complete on site in the Karoo region of the country's Northern Cape Province.
Following an invitation earlier this month to the world’s radio astronomers to apply for MeerKAT telescope time, 21 proposals involving more than 500 astronomers from around the world were received. Of these, 59 are African scientists.
A time allocation committee of local and international experts rated the proposals on the basis of scientific merit, technical and operational feasibility, the extent to which MeerKAT has a unique role for the proposed observations or forms an essential component in a larger campaign, and the resources each group was prepared to bring to the project.
The successful teams will be invited to work with the MeerKAT team throughout the design phase of the telescope, and to become involved in the project’s human capacity building programme.
Observing time allocated:
• Nearly 8 000 hours to a proposal to test Einstein’s theory of gravity and investigate the physics of enigmatic neutron stars. This radio pulsar timing survey will be led by Prof. Matthew Bailes at the Swinburne Centre for Astrophysics and Supercomputing in Australia.
LADUMA - Looking at the Distant Universe with MeerKAT Array. : 5 000 hours jointly to two proposals to survey the distant universe This ultra-deep survey of neutral hydrogen gas in the early universe will be led by Drs Sarah Blyth and Benne Holwerda, both at the University of Cape Town (South Africa), in partnership with Dr Andrew Baker at Rutgers University (US).
MESMER: MeerKAT Search for Molecules in the Epoch of Re-ionisation, led by Dr Ian Heywood, University of Oxford in the UK – 6500 hours.
MeerKAT Absorption Line Survey, led by Dr Yashwant Gupta and Dr Raghunathan Srianand, both associated with the Giant Metrewave Radio Telescope in India – 4 000 hours.
MHONGOOSE: MeerKAT HI Observations of Nearby Galactic Objects: Observing Southern Emitters, led by Professor Erwin de Blok at the University of Cape Town – 6 000 hours.
TRAPUM: Transients and Pulsars with MeerKAT, led jointly by Dr Benjamin Stappers at the Joddrell Bank Centre for Astrophysics, UK and Professor Michael Kramer at the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy, Germany – 3 080 hours.
• A MeerKAT HI Survey of the Fornax Cluster, led by Dr Paolo Serra at ASTRON, an astronomy research institute in The Netherlands - 2 450 hours.
MeerGAL: A MeerKAT High Frequency Galactic Plane Survey, led jointly by Dr Mark Thompson, University of Hertfordshire in the UK and Dr Sharmilla Goedhart of the South African MeerKAT team – 3 300 hours.
MIGHTEE: MeerKAT International GigaHertz Tiered Extragalactic Exploration Survey, led by Dr Kurt van der Heyden, University of Cape Town with Dr Matt Jarvis who represents both the University of the Western Cape (South Africa) and the University of Hertfordshire in the UK – 1 950 hours.
ThunderKAT: The Hunt for Dynamic and Explosive Radio Transients with MeerKAT, led by Professor Patrick Woudt, University of Cape Town and Professor Rob Fender at the University of Southampton in the UK – 3 000 hours.
VLBI Networks and SETI
In addition to these ten high priority surveys, there is a strong case for MeerKAT to participate in the world-wide VLBI (very long baseline interferometry) observations, which use telescopes all around the world, working together. We will ensure that MeerKAT becomes affiliated to international VLBI networks and will commit time to these observations,” explains Dr Bernie Fanaroff, Director of the SKA South Africa Project.
“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,” Dr Fanaroff adds.
More about Radio telescope, Meerkat telescope, Ska, Radio astronomers, Astronomy
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