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African Radio Astronomy: Karoo Array Telescope (MeerKAT)

South Africa is building the Karoo Array Telescope (MeerKAT), which is a precursor instrument for the SKA, but will in its own right be amongst the largest and most powerful radio telescopes in the world. MeerKAT is being constructed adjacent to the site proposed for the SKA near the small town of Carnarvon in the Northern Cape Province. The Greenfield radio astronomy site has been provided with electric grid power, roads, optical fibre connections to Cape Town, accommodation and workshops and is protected by purpose-built legislation, called the Astronomy Geographic Advantage Act. The MeerKAT will develop and test technologies appropriate to the Square Kilometre Array (SKA). These will include the use of composite, one-piece reflectors, single-pixel wide-band receivers, low-cost, high-reliability cryogenic systems, and reconfigurable digital processing systems.

The MeerKAT is already in great demand by the international astronomy community. Twenty-one international teams, including five hundred scientists, responded to a request for proposals for large observing surveys with the MeerKAT. An international Time Allocation Committee has recommended two top priority programmes and eight others and these programmes have been awarded in all nearly five years of observing time. Some of the researchers are South Africans: others researchers are from India, the USA, the UK, the Netherlands, Australia, Germany, Italy, France, Canada and other countries.

The MeerKAT is being designed and built by the SKA South Africa team in Cape Town, collaborating with South African industry and universities and international collaborators. Key South African industry partners are EMSS, a Stellenbosch company which works with the team on innovative receivers, radio feeds and cryogenics, Tellumat, which is working on the manufacturing of boards and receivers and MMS and BAE Land Systems, which have built the composite dishes, Eskom, the national electric power utility, Optic 1, which built the power and optical fibre cables to the site, Broadband InfraCo, which is connecting the site to Cape Town and the world, MESA Solutions, working on electromagnetic compatibility, as well as many construction and service companies.

South Africa universities which have been particularly active include the universities of Cape Town, Stellenbosch, Rhodes, Western Cape, Witwatersrand and KwaZulu Natal and the Durban University of Technology. The major international collaborators are the University of California at Berkeley, and the universities of Oxford, Cambridge, Manchester, Illinois, Caltech, and the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (USA), ASTRON (Netherlands), TIFRA (India), INAF (Italy) and the DAO (Canada).

Further information: www.ska.ac.za/meerkat