MeerKAT

A new radio astronomical receiver project of the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy has received funding of 11 million Euro in 2014 by the Max Planck Society.

The scientific defined frequency range from 1.6 to 3.5 GHz can only be observed under significant sensitivity losses with the 100-m Effelsberg radio telescope due to man-made radio emission, the so-called Radio Frequency Interference.

Radio telescope Enlarge image Radio telescope (© picture alliance / dpa) Thus the MeerKAT observatory, currently under construction in South Africa, has been chosen as a host for this receiver system. MeerKAT, will be the most sensitive observatory of the southern hemisphere in the centimetre wavelength regime.

Thanks to its unique location at the Karoo semi-desert in South Africa, MeerKAT is hardly influenced by interference. The 11 million Euro receiver project will not only grant the Max Planck scientists access to a world-class facility and its unique unrestricted view on our galaxy, but also extend the frequency range for all MeerKAT scientists and thus empower MeerKATs scientific potential even further.

Opening the skies

Radio astronomy provides an independent view of the cosmos. It allows the study of objects and processes that are otherwise not accessible, and enables the study of a wide range of questions in fundamental physics and astrophysics.

The discovery space is mostly limited by the sensitivity of the radio telescopes, but other factors like sky access, time and frequency resolution, throughput (or “survey speed”) and complementarity to existing facilities, are hugely important factors. Currently, major efforts are underway to make progress on all these factors.

Artist's impression of the SKA dishes Enlarge image Artist's impression of the SKA dishes (© SPDO/TDP/DRAO/Swinburne Astronomy Productions) An upfront development is provided by the MeerKAT observatory in South Africa. When completed it will already be a world-class facility in stand-alone mode. MeerKAT will even be more sensitive than the largest fully-steerable radio telescopes in the Northern hemisphere, the 100-m radio telescope at Effelsberg and the Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia. In addition, it will provide a spatial resolution comparable to an 8 km diameter telescope. The science potential of MeerKAT is therefore enormous.

“The MeerKAT receiver project at our institute provides a receiving system that is finely tuned to the science interests of Max Planck scientists”, says Gundolf Wieching, head of the Electronics division at MPIfR where the new receiver will be built. “This will allow us to exploit this formidable new instrument and to bring Max Planck scientists to an optimal position to harness other future facilities.” In addition to providing the front-end, the complete project also includes the design and the construction of a state-of-the-art digital back-end system which will turn MeerKAT into a discovery machine for pulsars and other time-domain phenomena.

The receiver system will be designed and constructed by the MPIfR in collaboration with colleagues from the Universities of Manchester and Oxford “The investment is an endorsement of the excellence of the MeerKAT and the South African team which designed and is building it”, concludes Bernie Fanaroff, Director of the SKA South Africa project. “We welcome the strong and growing collaboration between South African and German scientists in astronomy.''

c. Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy

MeerKAT

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Max Planck Society

Max-Planck-Gesellschaft

The research institutes of the Max Planck Society perform basic research in the interest of the general public in the natural sciences, life sciences, social sciences, and the humanities. In particular, the Max Planck Society takes up new and innovative research areas that German universities are not in a position to accommodate or deal with adequately.The variety of topics in the natural sciences and the humanities at Max Planck Institutes complement the work done at universities and other research facilities in important research fields.